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Alight from the Luas Red Line at the Fatima stop and Byrne Pharmacy sits ahead and to the right. Behind that, there’s a clothes shop called River Fashions.
But don’t try to shop there. These are fake shop fronts advertising imaginary businesses.
The Herberton apartment complex that these shop spaces sit below was built as a public-private partnership to replace the social-housing complex Fatima Mansions – and opened in 2009.
A sign says that the retail units are available for rent but that too is an illusion, says Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty.
A longstanding dispute between Dublin City Council and the developer means those shops have never been available for rent, he says.
He hasn’t been able to find out the exact nature of the dispute, but 13 years on, the council should have sorted that out, he says.
Small businesses, community and arts organisations are crying out for community space, says Moriarty. “Here you have a prime location, slap bang in the middle of Dublin 8 … just shuttered up for the best part of 15 years.”
Joe Donoghue, community development manager with Fatima Groups United, a representative body for residents and projects in the complex, says that the delay has actually benefited the area.
The National Children’s Hospital has temporarily rented the largest empty retail space for offices, he says. “There has been a huge spinoff from the children’s hospital.”
John Ryan, head of the Vacant Property Unit in Dublin City Council, said the council is engaged in a process with the units’ owners, and the management company to discuss the empty units and other matters and the council intends to finalise that process shortly.
What Is There Now?
There are more than 600 homes spread through the blocks of the Herberton complex, together with a playground, a creche, a leisure centre and the F2 community centre.
In the middle of the complex, there are also a few real businesses.
On a recent Friday around lunchtime, the Arch Cafe is busy, and children are buying sweets in the local butcher-and-groceries shop.
In front of those businesses, in the middle of the Herberton complex and opposite the Luas stop, the National Children’s Hospital has rented what would have been the largest retail unit, says Donoghue.
Around 120 staff from the hospital will be based there until 2024, he says.
That has brought footfall to the area. Staff use the cafe, which is a social enterprise, he says. And the local enterprise centre won the cleaning and catering contract for the offices.
“The National Children’s Hospital has been hugely beneficial for the local community,” says Donoghue.
Existing businesses in the Herberton complex are renting at a discount because those units are owned by the F2 community centre, he says. “They are social enterprise units.”
There are other local people who would like to open businesses, he says, but he expects that the commercial rents for the privately owned retail units would be too high when they do eventually come on stream.
Large retail chains will likely snap those up, he says.
Why Still Empty?
The sign on the window beside “Byrne Pharmacy” on St Anthony’s Road says the retail units are available to rent and directs queries to CBRE, the commercial real estate firm.
There aren’t any records in the Property Registration Authority’s online database showing who owns these ground-floor spaces.
On the other side of the complex too, along Reuben Street opposite the existing businesses are more vacant shops.
A Dublin City Council staff member told Moriarty by email that Landsdowne Partnership is the estate agent in charge of the commercial units, which she said are in private ownership.
A staff member at the Landsdowne Partnership said: “The board of directors of Herberton Estate Property Management CLG have advised that Leases have not been granted by DCC for the units which are owned by Maplewood Elliott JV Limited (in Receivership).”
“The management company is hoping this matter will be resolved in the next 12 months,” she says.
She didn’t answer follow-up questions as to why the council would grant leases for privately owned units.
John Ryan, head of the Vacant Property Unit in Dublin City Council, said the council, the units’ owners, and the management company “are currently engaged in a process to have this matter and a number of other matters resolved in the development”.
“It is intended that these matters will be finalised shortly,” he says.
Moriarty says he is not satisfied with the answers he is getting when he has asked about the delays in renting out the commercial units at Fatima.
He has been told that the delays are down to an ongoing legal dispute over the heads of lease, the document that outlines the broad terms of any lease.
Whatever the reason, local people would expect that should be sorted out by now, he says. “A local authority of the size of Dublin City Council, representing the capital city, should be able to engage with a developer and come to some sort of agreement on it.”
It is symptomatic of the overall vacancy and dereliction issues across the city, he says.
There are concerns about anti-social behaviour along the Luas line and so it doesn’t make sense to leave units vacant there, he says.
The council should do everything it can to bring life to places, he says. “And make that location a bit more of a destination, give it a bit more buzz and get stuff happening there.”
“At the moment you are just dealing with fake pharmacy windows and fake clothes shops,” he says. “It’s hugely frustrating.”