On the night of 30 October, flames engulfed the roof of a white abandoned warehouse in Santry
Five fire engines rolled up. A group of four firemen struggled to prise open a massive garage-style door to get at the fire, while their colleagues battle the blaze from outside.
“It was a huge inferno and it was going all night,” says Ian Croft, a local resident who is on the area’s Tidy Towns committee.
The warehouse, at 1 Church Lane in Santry, is known locally as the Hanging Garment Factory and has been vacant for around 15 years, says Croft.
There have been problems before, he says. “In the last year, there has been all sorts of anti-social behaviour there.”
Since the fire, local councillors have called on the council to add the premises to the register of derelict buildings. It should be classified as a dangerous building, they say.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson says that they have contacted the owners and issued two dangerous buildings notices for the premises.
Locals would like to see the site developed for housing for older people and a community and recreational space, they say.
A spokesperson for the Gardaí says that there is an investigation underway into the cause of the fire.
Croft says that people kept breaking into the warehouse buildings, which used to be a clothing factory.
First, people who were homeless slept there, he says. But they got shelter sorted through the Peter McVerry Trust, he says.
But then teenagers started to break into the building too. “It is not just locals, there are teenagers coming from everywhere,” he says.
As a member of the local Tidy Towns committee, Croft helped to seal off the premises several times after break-ins, he says. But people keep getting back in.
Last summer, there were young people sitting and drinking on the roof of the building, he says.
Not Just Housing
The Tidy Towns committee scrubbed graffiti from the warehouse and put up a mural that reads “Love Your Community”, says Louise Lowry, secretary of the Santry Whitehall Forum, a local residents’ group.
In the days before the fire, members of the Santry Whitehall Forum were talking about the old Hanging Garment Factory, says Lowry.
They would love to see it used to benefit the local community, she says.
Since the fire, locals feel it isn’t safe and want it classified as a dangerous building, says Lowry.
“We are not against them putting housing in the area, but the schools are full, the doctors are full and the dentists are full,” says Lowry.
A cafe or community and recreational space would be ideal, she says. And homes for older people looking to downsize, says Lowry.
Croft says that locals want to see housing that is affordable and recreational space.
“If you look at Ballymun they have an auditorium, they have different things for the community, but there is very little going in for the community here,” he says.
Dangerous and Derelict Buildings
At a recent local area meeting, Fianna Fáil Councillor Racheal Batten called in a motion for the factory to be added to the “dangerous building register immediately for health and safety reasons”.
The council doesn’t have a register of dangerous buildings, said a spokesperson. But it has a database with thousands of buildings that have been visited by staff from its Dangerous Buildings Section.
The abandoned warehouse has been listed on the council’s database since January 2020 when it was first brought to its attention as open to casual entry, says the spokesperson.
Staff “re-secured” it at the time, they said, by email.
The council then sent a DB1 notice to the owners, once they’d worked out who they were, says the council spokesperson.
The DB1 notice means that the inspector can access the site straight away, carry out the necessary works and then bill the owners for it.
The premises is not listed on the land registry.
After the recent fire, the Dangerous Buildings Section within the council had to go to the premises again to carry out emergency works to make it safe and they have since issued another notice to the owners, says the spokesperson.
“Responsibility for all maintenance, repair, remedial or indeed demolition works to these premises as always remains with the owner,” they said.
According to the Citizens Information website, if a local authority finds that a building is dangerous, it can instruct the owner to carry out remedial works to make it safe. If the owner fails to do so they can be fined up to €2,500.
The local authority can also move to compulsory purchase the property. But they have to pay the market rate for it and the owner can also object.
Since the fire, the council’s Derelict Sites Section has started to look at the abandoned building, too, says the council spokesperson.
“It is listed for inspection to determine if it should be declared a derelict site,” they say.
If a property is found to be derelict, the council can instruct the owner to restore it to a non-derelict condition within a certain time period, usually six weeks, and impose a fine if they don’t.
The fine usually amounts to 3 percent of the market value of the site for each year it remains on the register. The council can also compulsory purchase the site.
Social Democrat Councillor Patricia Roe says that she would like to meet with the owner to find out if they have any plans for the building. “Sometimes there are genuine reasons”, for long-term vacancy, she says.
Her understanding is that the property does not meet the criteria for the vacant sites levy, she says.
The vacant sites levy is a tax on vacant lands of more than 0.5 hectares, zoned for housing or regeneration. The levy is calculated at 7 percent of the market value of the site for each year it is on the vacant sites register.
Roe would like to see fines levied on vacant properties, she says.
Roe had also asked the council’s local area manager if the council could consider buying the property for a heritage centre and village focal point for Santry.
Coilín O’Reilly, director of services for the north-central area, said that there is already a park across the road so it would be difficult to argue that public space is needed.
“Citizens have a right to their private property and the right to do what they wish with it, within the law and without undue interference from the state,” he says.
If the council were to move to compulsory purchase the property, it would have to pay market rate, which would “likely be determined by the development potential of the overall site”, he says
The council probably doesn’t have the cash. It is “very unlikely that Dublin City Council has available unassigned funds in this magnitude”, he says.