On a recent Tuesday afternoon at Parkview Close in Ballymun, Anthony Robson walks down the stairs at the front of the housing complex carrying a bag of rubbish and an empty milk carton.
He walks under the metal scaffolding, covered in green netting, and heads to the communal bins.
The entire complex on both sides of the street is covered in scaffolding. It appears as though Robson is living on a building site.
Talking over the loud drilling coming from the site, he points to the source of the noise: that is his sister’s home, he says.
He is staying with her and she has been moved to another apartment further down in the street in the same complex, so the construction work can go ahead.
What’s it like to live amid this? Robson smiles. “It is annoying but it is not their fault,” he says, referring to the building workers, coming in and out of the complex in yellow high-vis jackets.
There weren’t any problems that he could see in his sister’s home but he understands that the workers need to carry out work on all the ceilings in the complex, he says.
Parkview in Ballymun appears to be one of Dublin’s last ghost estates. The construction of almost 300 homes stalled midway following the 2008 property crash.
Until recently, the land that Parkview is built on was owned by Dublin City Council, leading some to question whether the council should have pushed to buy up more of the unfinished homes in the estate.
A council spokesperson says it turned down the offer to snap up some of the 76 homes that have lain vacant there since 2009 – citing two main reasons, one relating to costs, the other to council policies around social housing.
History of the Development
Parkview is beside Poppintree Park in Ballymun. The streets are lined with trees and the homes are fenced in by shrubs. The homes are maisonettes or townhouses, somewhere in-between a house and an apartment.
Most of them have balconies and there are 312 surface-level car parking spaces too.
According to a Dublin City Council report from in 2019, the council agreed in 2006 to transfer the land to a private developer, Paddy Doyle.
Doyle was set to build 266 private homes and 26 affordable homes on the site.
By the summer of 2009, Doyle had built 172 private homes. But then he stopped building “citing financial difficulties”, says the report.
By then, he had sold 96 homes to private purchasers, 76 were unsold and he provided Dublin City Council with an additional 14 homes, says the report.
Doyle was financed by Anglo Irish Bank, which transferred the loans to the National Asset Loan Management Designated Activity Company (NALM) which later appointed the accountancy firm Grant Thornton as the receiver for the properties.
Despite the council’s agreement to transfer the land to Doyle, the land remained in council ownership but the loans for the 76 homes ended up in the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).
“The elements of the development completed by the developer, including the common areas, require substantial remedial works estimated to be in the region of €8m,” says the 2019 council report which recommended the council sell the land.
According to that report, an agreement was eventually reached between the council, NAMA and the Owners Management Company – which represented 96 private homeowners in the development – that the construction works would be carried out by a company associated with Paddy Doyle, Arcadia Developments Ltd.
The council agreed to pay 14/172 of the costs for the remedial works, says the report.
The council agreed to transfer ownership of the developed land to Arcadia, and NAMA agreed that the ownership of the land which had not yet been developed would revert to the council.
So why did it take 10 years to hammer out a deal and get construction work underway to complete Parkview Close?
Everything in the council takes ages, says Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan. “There is so much bureaucracy it would bring you nearly to tears.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that there were legal and financial complexities that led to the homes ending up in NAMA.
“A further long period occurred before an agreement was reached between NAMA and Dublin City Council leading to the lease of the undeveloped land (including the part with the foundations in place) at the site being returned to Dublin City Council,” says the spokesperson.
The undeveloped land has space for around 70 or 80 new homes. The council intends to give a small part of that land to a local football club and will offer the rest of the land to Ó Cualann, a housing co-op that provides affordable housing, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
Not for Sale
Last December, 76 properties at Parkview Close sold for prices starting at around €56,000 and 43 of them went for around €86,000, according to the Property Price Register.
But a NAMA spokesperson says that the homes were not sold in December.
“This transaction occurred between related parties controlled by the same receiver. The seller was Paul McCann of Grant Thornton in his capacity as receiver over certain assets of the debtor,” said the spokesperson.
“The buyer was a company connected to the debtor, also in the receivership of Paul McCann,” he says.
So the transaction wasn’t really a sale, he says.
“It was a technical transaction with no movement of money outside of the receiver’s control,” he says. “The transaction was required in order to ensure good and marketable title and fulfil the terms of an agreement with DCC.”
“Clean title” allows the receiver to carry out the construction works necessary and the properties will then be placed on the open market to be sold, he says.
The price tags ranging from €53,000 to €127,000 were based on an independent valuation, though – taking into account the works necessary on the properties, says the NAMA spokesperson.
At the height of the Celtic Tiger in 2007, the Irish Times reported that the two-bed homes in Parkview were on sale for €360,000.
That is also the amount that Dublin City Council officials said it was paying to build housing late last year.
In November last year, Brendan Kenny, the council’s head of housing, told councillors that it costs the council €350,000 to €370,000 to build an apartment in the city on land it owns.
Architect and housing commentator Mel Reynolds says he wonders why the council didn’t snap up the homes and bring them up to scratch itself in light of the severe housing crisis, the cost of housing and the delays in the procurement process.
“These sales prices are significantly below Ó Cualann’s affordable homes sold in 2017,” says Reynolds. “One wonders why Dublin City Council didn’t purchase these and refurbish them for sale to private buyers as affordable housing, or lease them as cost-rental units?”
“Are they rented out to state tenants?” he asks. If the council has households in the area who are on the Housing Assistance Payment, a subsidy for those on low incomes, it would be much more economical to purchase homes for them at a good price, he says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says NAMA offered to sell the council 38 of the homes in Parkview a few years back.
But the council declined the offer “because we were concerned about the condition of the units and because the view at that time was there was already a very high concentration of social housing in the Ballymun/Poppintree area”, says the council spokesperson.
“A key element of the Ballymun Master Plan was to achieve a more sustainable mix of housing in the area,” he says.
That offer was made several years ago and since the council turned it down it doesn’t know how much NAMA wanted for the homes at the time, says the council spokesperson.