Whatever happened to... a €180m plan to regenerate a troubled Dublin flat complex?

Developer Bernard McNamara was to rebuild the O’Devaney Gardens during the boom.

By Paul O'Donoghue Reporter, Fora

OVER THE PAST year, Fora has taken a look at some of the more notable big-ticket projects that were planned during the Celtic Tiger period – or in the aftermath of its demise.

Most recently, we detailed the story behind RTÉ’s €350 million plan to build a new hi-tech headquarters.

A lack of money during the recession put the kibosh on the ambitious project, although the state broadcaster did manage to pocket more than €100 million last year by selling off part of the Montrose site.

For this installment we’re moving across the capital, where Dublin City Council has been struggling for years to build a new block of flats.

What is it?

There have been plans going spanning more than a decade to regenerate the O’Devaney Gardens complex in north Dublin, near the Phoenix Park.

The flats were built in the 1950s to provide an alternative to the poor-quality houses many council tenants lived in and consisted of 278 residential units in 13 four-storey blocks.

They were originally meant to be developed in a partnership between a private builder and the local council, however the builder went bankrupt leaving Dublin Corporation – now Dublin City Council – to pick up the pieces.

Like many housing developments of the era, the O’Devaney Gardens complex lacked many facilities and suffered from anti-social behaviour such as drug-taking and underage drinking.

As the economy picked up during the Celtic Tiger, Dublin City Council pledged to regenerate the flats and again looked for help from a private developer.

O Devaney Gardens The O'Devaney Gardens flats
Source: Graham Hughes/RollingNews.ie

The plan was to tear down the flats and build more than 800 new units, which would have a near-even split between private, affordable and social housing. It was estimated that the project would cost around €180 million.

When was it first suggested?

Regeneration was talked about since the late 90s. Redevelopment plans were put forward around 2003, and the first concrete plans took shape around 2006.

What happened?

Dublin City Council struck a deal with Bernard McNamara to redevelop O’Devaney Gardens and build more private housing alongside affordable and social units. McNamara was one of Ireland’s most high-profile developers during the boom.

As well as building houses around the country, he was involved in some of the most notable deals of the Celtic Tiger era, such as the €140 million acquisition of the Shelbourne Hotel and its near-€90 million refurbishment.

In May 2008, as the economy took a turn, McNamara’s Castlethorn Construction decided not to go ahead with the plan and several other public-private partnerships, citing ”substantial” changes in the housing market.

McNamara, who owed more than €1 billion to state bad bank Nama after the financial collapse, eventually went bankrupt in the UK in 2012.

Builder Bernard McNamara Bernard McNamara
Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Again, Dublin City Council was left to work on the O’Devaney Gardens flats. It started demolishing some of the houses after riots in the area in the summer of 2008.

Almost all of the flats were emptied out and Dublin City Council got permission to build social housing in the complex, however the plans were put on ice in 2012 due to a lack of money.

What’s the latest?

By 2015, nine of the 13 blocks had been demolished, with the remaining units left in a poor state of repair.

As it became more difficult to get housing in the city, it was proposed that the remaining flats could be refurbished at a cost of €5 million and used to house homeless families.

However this was rejected by councillors, with one saying there was no point spending a big chunk of money on something that would only be a short-term fix.

The council has since secured €18 million to build 56 social homes at the site. For the rest of the scheme, the local authority is once again turning to a private developer.

It is planned that the chosen developer will build about 530 houses and apartments at the site in a project that is expected to cost about €125 million.

90425907_90425907 The remaining O'Devaney Gardens flats in 2016
Source: RollingNews.ie

It is planned that the private builder will construct about 240 social and affordable homes, while the rest will be made up of private units.

The Irish Times reported in August that the executive manager of the council’s housing department, Tony Flynn, said it was hoped that building would start by the end of the year.

In response to a query from Fora a spokeswoman for Dublin City Council said it will issue a tender document in the next week for the construction of the initial 56 social houses, which will be developed by the council through a contractor.

The local authority said that the private developer which will lead the rest of the project should be selected some time around April.

“Six prospective candidates have now been identified who will participate in a competitive dialogue process,” a spokeswoman said.

“It is expected that the process will last at least three months before the project agreement will be finalised. Both developments, the 56 units and the rest of the site, can then be progressed (subject to steps such as) planning permission.

“It is estimated that the entire project could be complete between 36 to 48 months thereafter.”

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