PLANS to build 611 apartments on former RTÉ land are akin to 'Ballymun Towers South Dublin' and could become “modern-day slums”, businessman Dermot Desmond has claimed.
In a blistering letter to local politicians, the billionaire threatens to use his “resources” to fight fast-track planning laws being applied to the development “all the way to the European Courts”.
Mr Desmond, who owns a property on Ailesbury Road close to the Dublin 4 site, says the planning system “has been compromised” by Strategic Housing Development (SHD) legislation.
The law allows planning applications for developments of more than 100 homes on land zoned for residential use to bypass local authority scrutiny and be directly assessed by An Bord Pleanála.
Cairn Homes has submitted plans under the SHD process to build 611 apartments and three townhouses on land it bought from RTÉ in Donnybrook, Dublin 4, in 2017 for €107.5m.
The project is close to Dublin’s so-called ‘embassy belt’, where ambassadors and other wealthy individuals live.
In a letter sent to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and other local representatives, Mr Desmond says it will be “higher than the density of Ballymun Towers North Dublin, built in the 1960s to accommodate a housing crisis and subsequently demolished and replaced by low-rise homes”.
He adds: “We are replacing urban sprawl with vertical sprawl. Instead of considering the long-term social implications of high-rise, high-density housing, current planning policy is promoting vertical greed.
“I predict that in the not-too distant future, urban sprawl will be back in fashion.”
The financier notes that with more people working from home and high-tech electric transport in the future, “there will be no need for these skyscrapers which will become modern-day slums”.
The six-page letter, seen by Indepenent.ie, is scathing of developers in general, who Mr Desmond says are “abusing the system” to build thousands of apartments for the rental sector.
“Housing in this country has become a financial commodity,” he writes. “The developers’ lobby will argue that the private rental sector market is the solution to the housing crisis as the increased supply will ultimately bring down rents.
“This is not true. It suits the construction industry to perpetuate this story to protect the large profits being made from this sector.”
Writing specifically about the RTÉ development, Mr Desmond says the sale of the land to Cairn Homes for €107.5m (€12.5m per acre) “makes no sense”, since Dublin City Council is now signed up to pay €30m for social housing in the development.
He says the SHD laws, which were introduced by the outgoing government as part of its Rebuilding Ireland plan in 2016, have resulted in “an undemocratic, secretive process and it has been a spectacular failure”.
“Under SHD, the planning decision is effectively made behind closed doors before there is any public consultation.”
Mr Desmond notes that the cost of challenging An Bord Pleanála decisions is “exorbitant” and a “deterrent for many, but rest assured that I will use my resources to protect our constitutional rights and will fight this undemocratic process to the bitter end”.
His wife Pat and two other Ailesbury Road residents have already launched a legal challenge to fast-track planning laws in the High Court. If successful, it could derail plans for more than 15,000 housing units across the country.
He claims the proposed height of the RTÉ development, ranging from four to 10 storeys, is “totally unsuitable to the area”.
“It is a complete over-densification of the site and it will significantly overlook and overshadow properties along the boundary (many of which are listed buildings), and will add to the already significant traffic congestion in the area and along the Stillorgan Road.”
He notes that a proposed car park with 595 spaces “is over twice the size of the Aviva Stadium”.
Responding to the claims, Cairn Homes said it was “Ireland’s largest home builder, delivering thousands of well designed and constructed new homes to first-time buyers, other individual purchasers, pension investment institutions and the Part V social housing programme”.
In a statement to Independent.ie, the company said: “The planning process we adhere to is managed by local authorities and An Bord Pleanála in a rigorously independent manner consistent with the Government’s National Development Plan which is determined by our elected representatives”.
The company pointed out that prior to engagement in any the planning process for any new development, representatives actively engage with adjoining neighbours and communities.
“As Cairn has now formally lodged its planning application for Montrose, Dublin 4, it is precluded for making any further comment,” a statement said.
Independent.ie has requested a comment from Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy but we await a reply.
Mr Desmond’s objections to potential development at RTÉ date back more than a decade. His house on Ailesbury Road backs on the Montrose campus.
He made headline news last March when he wrote a substantial newspaper piece outlining his belief that everyone has a right to a home and calling for the State to make a greater intervention in the market.
The lengthy article outlined how he bought his first home in Cork in 1972 as a 22-year-old junior bank clerk.
His argument about a lack of coherence in our public housing policy was welcomed by Sinn Féin, whose housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin made contact with Mr Desmond to discuss his ideas afterwards.