Saturday 18 November 2017

Foley won the battle to buy Clerys - but the war for its future has only begun

Clery's department store in Dublin's O'Connell, 1990s. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Clery's department store in Dublin's O'Connell, 1990s. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Clery's, O'Connell Street, 1924.
2000s. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Ruins of Clery's stores and the Imperial Hotel, destroyed in the Easter Rising, 1916. Photo: Getty Images
Former Clerys workers taking part in the Trade Union May day march makes its way from Parnell Square to Liberty Hall, 2016. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Deirdre Foley, the chief of D2 Private, may have won the battle to secure ownership of Clerys' historic premises on O'Connell Street, but judging by the nature of the objections received by Dublin City Council to plans for the building's redevelopment, it's clear the war to determine its future has only just begun.

An examination by the Sunday Independent of the correspondence received by the council from former Clerys' workers, public representatives and members of the public in the days leading up to last Friday's deadline for observations, reveals the strength of opposition to Foley and her fellow OCS Properties directors' plan to transform the property from traditional department store to a contemporary amalgam of offices, retail and boutique hotel.

Not surprisingly, the fate of the 130 workers who had been employed directly by Clerys and the 300 other people who had worked at the store's various concessions up until the decision by Foley and her partners to close it without notice features prominently in the submissions to council planners.

"Given what has happened to the workers in Clerys and the mindset of people whose creed is greed, I don't want to see an edifice to that same greed and corporate blackguardism in O'Connell Street," one member of the public wrote in disgust.

Of the proposed plan for redevelopment of the store, which was modelled originally on Selfridge's famous flagship store on London's Oxford Street, the same correspondent added: "The plan is ugly, gaudy and falsely modern. It will not be a beacon of glory or grandeur".

While that level of antipathy towards Clerys' new owners is not repeated in the other observations received by the council, there are calls for OCS Properties to comply with Dublin City Council's 'Scheme of Special Planning Control for O'Connell Street and its Environs 2016'.

Under its terms, "property owners and occupiers acknowledge their obligations as stakeholders that workers are assured fair working conditions in this area of special significance to the Irish nation".

Referring to the obligations imposed on property owners under the scheme, one member of the public wrote to council planners to say that Foley and her partners should only be granted planning permission if their application includes a 'social clause' that provides for "local employment, protection of workers' wages and jobs for former Clerys workers".

Another member of the public meanwhile stated their objection to the proposed development, arguing that it contravenes the council's scheme of special planning control by failing to recognise the "special significance" of Clerys as a department store.

Explaining their position, they note that OCS Properties has applied to develop 9,000 sq m of office space, a multiple of the 3,500 sq m of retail space it proposes to provide within the historic building. OCS Properties' planning consultants, John Spain, rejected those figures, telling the Sunday Independent that office floor space would be gained by additions to the building as opposed to changing the use of its existing retail area.

While Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe says in his submission that the proposal's inclusion of a new hotel is "welcome", he calls on OCS Properties to "ensure that all workers are assured fair working conditions" in view of the "historic significance of union leader Jim Larkin's speech from the window of Clerys 103 years ago, and the more recent moral failure of the owners to deliver on justice for the Clerys workers".

OCS Properties are clearly mindful of the challenge they face if they are to undo the damage caused by the sudden closure of the famous department store, and secure approval for their plans. A report prepared by DKM Economic Consultants and submitted to the council as part of the Clerys planning application claims the redeveloped building will create a total of 1,450 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) jobs between those engaged in its offices, retail units and hotel.

Arguing that Clerys had just 130 staff directly employed in January 2015, DKM states: "Project D1 would provide greater employment opportunities for the population of Dublin, with an enlarged retail offering which would be expected to engage 330 FTEs alone."

"This sizeable expansion could - in terms of employment opportunities - benefit some of the staff who were previously engaged at the Clerys department store, while also providing new retail opportunities for other elements of the Dublin labour force," the report adds.

Sunday Independent

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