Richard Barrett has a finger in every property pie, writes Caroline O’Doherty
Johnny Ronan’s high-reaching construction ambitions may grab headlines, but arguably it is his former partner in the one-time ubiquitous Treasury Holdings who may leave a greater imprint on the country’s built environment.
While Ronan went on to battle for skyline dominance in Dublin’s Docklands after post-boom Treasury limped into Nama, co-founder, Richard Barrett, laid a little lower, spread his bets wider and now has a finger in just about every kind of pie in the very hot kitchen that property has become once more.
Barrett’s company, Bartra, has been busy developing, or developing ideas for, houses, apartments and shared living units that fit within the social housing, cost-rental, private rented, build-to-rent and build-to-purchase models.
In addition, it has offices, elder years independent living and assisted-living units and nursing homes. He has also proposed including co-location of nursing homes on public hospital grounds.
Throw in a maternity hospital and future generations could be Bartra babies from cradle to grave.
Plans for a 104-bed nursing home in Dalkey – its fifth in Dublin – brought the company into the spotlight this week, chiefly because of the objections of next-door neighbour, Pat Kenny.
The company is persistent, this being its third application for the site.
It took a similar approach to a 210-bed co-living development in Castleknock and has since got approval, bringing its co-living portfolio to four.
Pat Kenny suggested repeating applications was “abuse of process”.
A Bartra spokesman said the company would not discuss an active application.
Asked if the company would like to share its views on the planning system more generally, the spokesman declined, saying it likes to keep its head down.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it stays quiet.
Bartra regularly lobbies ministers, Dublin TDs, councillors and council managers to push for private sector social housing delivery, among other issues.
On one occasion, in April 2018, then housing minister Eoghan Murphy met Richard Barrett at a do organised by the Donegal Dublin Business Network in Iveagh House.
According to lobbying records, Barrett took the opportunity to press for homes built by private developers for long-term lease to councils to be exempt from development levies.
He also complained that the bicycle storage requirements for new apartments were “unduly onerous”.
More recently, James Hartshorn, Barrett’s partner in Bartra Wealth Advisers, told readers of a magazine dedicated to investment migration that when he gets back to his home Wicklow from his work bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong, he likes to go biking on the best trails in the country.
Presumably bicycle storage is not an issue.
The reason Hartshorn is regularly in Shanghai is that Bartra is an enthusiastic facilitator of the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) which gives non-EU citizens residency here in return for investing at least €1m in business or property.
Promotional materials aimed at Asian audiences extoll the virtues of Ireland’s low-regulation property market, the myriad of opportunities given the glaring housing need, and the attraction of government-backed projects, as in social housing, for investment security.
The much-criticised practice of long-term leasing by local authorities of privately built homes for social housing is a key selling point, as are nursing homes.
More than 200 Chinese investors have availed of the scheme through investment in Bartra property projects and in recent months, the company has lobbied Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on how “an enhanced IIP could benefit the economy”.
Meanwhile, Bartra’s plans for O’Devaney Gardens are due to be lodged with An Bord Pleanála any day.
The controversial and protracted project involves a Dublin City Council land transfer to Bartra, giving the company space to build more than 1,000 homes, 30pc of which will be provided as social housing.
O’Devaney on Dublin’s northside is to Barrett what Waterfront South Central in the Docklands is to Ronan.
Ronan’s equally contentious 40-storey flagship development, which has already been subject to High Court challenge, was turned down by An Bord Pleanála on Friday.
Barrett’s project will know its fate in late summer but it would appear to have weathered most of its storms already.
If one side of the famous former property partnership was to give advice to the other, the moral might be, aim high but build low.