After Lobbying to Get Coolock Site Rezoned to Build Homes, Landowner Instead Looks to Sell It at a Steep Markup

A nine-acre industrial site in Coolock, which – after lobbying by the landowners – Dublin city councillors rezoned in 2018 to allow homes to be built there swiftly, is back on the market for far more than they bought it for, still without any homes.

Dublin City Council rezoned the old Chivers factory site on Coolock Drive after the landowners presented plans to councillors for roughly 350 homes, which they said would be affordable and built quickly.

“Zoning the site Z1 allows us to go on site and start building with houses on stream in 2018,” wrote Andrew Gillick, in an email to a councillor in September 2017. “This allows us to benefit the most amount of people the fastest.”

Company records for 2016 gave the value of the land owned by Veni Vidi Vici Limited to be €2.55 million. The company, which bought the site in Coolock that year, doesn’t own any land elsewhere in Ireland, suggest property records.

Cushman and Wakefield, the sales agent, didn’t respond to a query asking for the current guide price for the site. But a report in the Irish Times property section earlier this month put it at €25 million – almost 10 times more than the company records figure.

Gillick, the managing director of Platinum Land, didn’t directly address several questions by email, including why the company had decided to sell the site rather than develop it.

“Everything you have written is incorrect,” he said in response to an email that also asked about the price the site was bought for, and the price it is selling for. “Should you write anything about us we will take legal action.”

Brothers Andrew and Maurice Gillick are both directors of UK company Platinum Land, and directors of the Irish company Veni Vidi Vici, according to its 2019 annual return.

The Back Story

“We chose to buy this site to try to create affordable housing for normal people,” wrote Andrew Gillick, a managing director of Platinum Land, in a letter to a local councillor in September 2017.

“We have been lucky and on hearing about the housing crisis on Joe Duffy we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to give back,” he wrote.

They had decided, wrote Gillick, that “the most beneficial course of action for everyone from the local community to society to ourselves would be to have this site rezoned and for a sustainable and quality residential development take place”.

Plans shown to councillors were for 350 affordable homes of heights up to five storeys. Once the site had been rezoned, the landowners also ran an open evening for local residents showing them the same plans.

Later that year, in December 2018, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy brought in new height guidelines that removed height caps and overruled the local development plan set by councillors.

In April 2019, Platinum Land put in a planning application under the new rules, with more homes and higher towers.

Some of the councillors who had voted for the rezoning based on the earlier plan said they felt duped.

In August 2019, it got permission from An Bord Pleanála for 471 build-to-rent homes. In December 2020, it got permission to bump up the number of homes to 550.

In April 2018 – as residents tried to parse what the developer meant by “affordable” – Gillick had said that they were trying to lease the whole development to the council, on long-term leases.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the council said it had agreed to lease up to 30 percent of the development for social homes.

Rent levels were agreed in August 2021 but the council needs the Department of Housing still to sign off on them, said the spokesperson. “For commercial reasons we are not in a position to reveal the details of the agreed Rent Levels at this time.”

Said the spokesperson: “This transaction will now, it appears be between [Dublin City Council] and the future new owner of the site.”

Having the land rezoned and the changes in planning rules to allow for greater heights and densities will all have increased the value of the land.

If it is then flipped and sold on, that will impact on the affordability of the homes that are built, says Patricia Roe, who became a Social Democrats councillor after the site had been rezoned.

“If the land goes for a higher price, which it will, won’t it obviously increase the cost of what’s built on it?” she says. “That would kind of stand to reason.”

Scoring an agreement to lease 30 percent of the homes to the council on long-term leases would make it more attractive too, Roe said. “Any buyer knows that they have this guaranteed income.”

What Gets Built

Land value does go up when it’s zoned for residential, said a Department of Housing spokesperson.

Hence the “land value sharing” measures in the government’s new housing policy, Housing for All, they said.

Those will make sure that the extra value of rezoned land will be shared in a fairer way with the state, said the spokesperson. “And that communities will benefit as a result.”

The “value uplift” will be used for public infrastructure, they said, “to service the lands and the community, including roads, public transport, schools, parks and community facilities”.

Where it’s needed, it may also include social and affordable homes above the Part V requirements, they said. (Part V homes are the cut of big developments that the state gets to buy or lease.)

But all that “land value sharing” does is raise some tax which the state can use, says Cian O’Callaghan, the Social Democrats TD and party housing spokesperson. “That’s a positive but it doesn’t do anything beyond that to actively manage land.”

Really, the state should be doing much more active land management on a much wider scale, he said.

The Land Development Agency should buy industrial lands at current zoning and the councils should rezone it and masterplan it and put in infrastructure, he said.

Then, “saying because we were able to acquire all these on industrial-zoned prices, it means we can ensure that all of the homes in it are going to be affordable, cost-rental, social,” he said.

“The council has conferred this huge windfall really for the landowner through this zoning decision and is paying again on these high-market rents and these long-term leases,” he said, of the Coolock site.

That’s two wins for the landowner, he said.

Whereas if it was done through active land management, it could be a win for affordable social homes and be done much more cost effectively, he says. “None of it makes sense.”

Larry O’Toole, the Sinn Féin councillor, said similar. The state should be buying those sites and building social homes on them, he says. “One very basic thing is to buy up brownfield sites that are not being used.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil Councillor Racheal Batten said she and her colleagues have raised the idea of councillors being able to attach conditions to rezonings with the Housing Minister, Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien.

“The Fianna Fáil group has brought up with the Minister for Housing that it’s what we would like going forward,” she said, although he hasn’t given one indication one way or the other yet.

She suggests conditions like that development fees have to be spent meeting specific needs in the area or that the rezoning is conditional on developers following a certain agreed plan.

There would be more zoning approved and housing built if councillors had that ability to add conditions, she said. “At the end of the day, they’re the ones with the local knowledge.”

Roe, the Social Democrats councillor, said that she was castigated as anti-housing when she voted against rezoning some land in Santry last year.

But she did that she says because she was wary – as other councillor say too – that there was no way to say what would be built. “There are no assurances.”

The proposal to rezone lands in Santry was part of a bigger bundle of rezonings of sites across the city, including one on Cork Street, which was rezoned and is now back up for sale as part of a wider plot with permission for 378 co-living beds.

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Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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