Monday 9 December 2019

War of words over funds threatening to derail massive housing project

  • War of words between Government and the largest council in the country has escalated

  • Claims that public were misled on number of affordable units at site

  • Housing Minister tells Dublin City Council it has no funding in place to buy additional homes in an estate with a mix of private, affordable and social housing

Derelict: The O’Devaney Gardens site in Dublin is being rebuilt with 768 new apartments
Derelict: The O’Devaney Gardens site in Dublin is being rebuilt with 768 new apartments
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

One of the country's biggest new housing developments is now at risk in a controversial funding row.

A war of words between the Government and the largest council in the country has escalated amid claims of the public being mislead.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has told Dublin City Council it has no funding in place to buy additional homes in an estate with a mix of private, affordable and social housing. The building of nearly 800 houses in the heart of the capital is now at risk in the funding battle.

The new apartment blocks are being built on public lands by a private developer.

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Mr Murphy has written to the Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe rubbishing a claim by councillors that a new deal for additional housing for affordable rents was struck.

The now-derelict O'Devaney Gardens site in Dublin is being rebuilt with 768 new apartments.

The O’Devaney Gardens site has lain derelict for years. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The O’Devaney Gardens site has lain derelict for years. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The mix of residents will be 50pc private owners, 30pc in social housing and 20pc in affordable housing.

Earlier this month, Dublin City Council approved the €300m redevelopment of the site. The Government has threatened to pull the funding for the plan if the council does not approve the deal.

But the controversial agreement was only passed after the group in power on the council claimed to have secured an additional 30pc of the development for affordable rental housing. The extra housing would be delivered through a purchase agreement between the private developer, Bartra, and an Approved Housing Body or housing organisation.

Now there are fresh risks to the redevelopment as a result of the alleged proposal.

Mr Murphy says no new deal has been secured for the site. He says no extra affordable rental units have been requested from or approved by the Department of Housing.

The minister says no legal advice has been sought by Dublin City Council to determine whether the inclusion of affordable rental units would breach the procurement process. This could open the council up to a legal challenge from unsuccessful bidders.

The minister warns the rents charged on any such units would not be affordable as the units would be purchased at market rather than cost price.

"Purchase of the homes would require very significant capital funding. In order to repay the required financing, the rental levels would likely have to be set at, or close to, market rates. This would effectively negate the concept of providing affordable homes for rent.

"Without a clear and sustainable position on the legal basis, funding and operation of the suggested plan, it seems highly unlikely that the purchase of private units from the developer... can deliver its intended goal of affordable rental," he wrote.

The minister's letter to the Lord Mayor was obtained by Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Ó Broin says the letter clearly shows "that no affordable rental accommodation has been secured" and the public were mislead.

He says his party is opposed to the proposed deal with a private developer making significant profits "with little return to the local community".

Mr Ó Broin says the plan is the single biggest public housing deal Dublin City Council has undertaken in decades and he will now be seeking legal advice on the proposals.

The Lord Mayor was elected by the ruling group on Dublin City Council, made up of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Labour and Social Democrats.

Mr McAuliffe says he stands over the claim the new deal will see 80pc of the units for social and affordable housing.

He says this will be achieved through State funding of a housing body, as is the norm.

"Is the minister interested in delivering houses or delivering political slurs?" he said.

Irish Independent

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