Locals in Ballybough say they want to know what is happening with a site on Ballybough Road that has been vacant since about 2007.
A row of single-storey red-brick Victorian houses at the front of the site are on the derelict sites register.
Dublin City Council tried to put it on the vacant site register in late 2019, show planning records. But the owners Lidl Ireland GmbH appealed that to An Bord Pleanála, which cancelled the entry.
It received planning permission in April 2022 and the community have heard nothing since, says Frank Keohane, the current chair of Ballybough Pride of Place.
At the community meeting, representatives from Lidl had said the supermarket would be completed in the summer of 2023, says Laura Williams, who lives next to the site.
Since then they have heard nothing. “People are very disappointed that they haven’t been informed,” she says.
Keohane says it is difficult for the group to spruce up the appearance of Ballybough with a large derelict site in the middle of the village.
“It’s a blight,” he says. “It does the whole place down and gives a bad impression of the area.”
Lidl has failed to scrub away graffiti and appears not to be interested in the site, he says. “It’s frustrating and disappointing and there is a real fear that it won’t happen.”
“We would love to see a Lidl in the community,” he says. “It would have a transformative effect on the street.”
The council should try to ensure that the site used for something, too, he says.
Keohane says he has written to Lidl three times since taking over as chair of the Pride of Place committee a few months ago, he says.
He hasn’t received a response. Lidl didn’t respond to queries sent last Wednesday as to its plans for the site in Ballybough.
“Lidl is committed to realising a store location to serve the vibrant community of Ballybough,” says a response issued to Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan.
“Our property team are currently reviewing this development project as part of our overarching expansion plan in Ireland and we hope to share an update in due course,” they said.
In the meantime
On a sunny spring day in 2020, Williams was sitting in her back garden in Ballybough – which backs onto the vacant Lidl site – eating scrambled eggs when, she says, she noticed something strange on the ground.
“I saw what looked like pieces of a roof, so I picked it up and I started collecting them,” she says, “and putting them in a pint glass under my sink.”
“A friend of mine was visiting and he was a builder. He said, ‘You need to be very careful. Wash your hands and wear a mask. This is asbestos.’”
It was around the start of the Covid-19 restrictions and Williams contacted Lidl.
The pieces kept falling off the derelict roof and into her garden, she says.
Lidl sent out a contractor to do an air monitoring survey. “He sent a report saying nothing to see here, then I had to get my own specialist in,” she says.
The asbestos expert that Williams employed in June found that there was asbestos in her garden, some of which posed a high risk, his report shows.
“The Asbestos Cement debris, located on the decking in the rear of the property, contains loose Chrysotile fibres,” says the report. “The AC debris has a high level of damage and poses a high risk.”
Williams got her report in June. She says she had to repeatedly contact Lidl after, who finally sent out a contractor to remove it in October 2022.
A spokesperson for Lidl said that: “As a responsible retailer, when an issue with asbestos arose on one of our newly acquired sites, Lidl followed a stringent tender process with qualified asbestos contractors and commissioned an independent asbestos analyst to conduct asbestos clearance work on their site, and that of their neighbouring third party’s property.”
“Once completed, the results were shared with the third party confirming that both sites were clear of asbestos,” she says.
Battling over asbestos
After her expert contractor found that there was a high risk to her from the asbestos, Williams says her solicitor wrote to Lidl asking them to get the asbestos removed from the roof.
She says the supermarket chain ignored that correspondence for months and finally in October 2020, seven months after she reported the issue, Lidl hired a specialist contractor to remove the asbestos.
She says she wasn’t given advance warning that the removal was taking place, as she would have gone elsewhere, if she had known.
They also didn’t clear her garden until much later, April 2021, she says.
She was unable to use her garden for almost a year, during the lockdown restrictions, she says. “It was very stressful.”
It was very difficult to contact the relevant authorities too because of the lockdown but an environmental health officer from the council was helpful, she says, in pushing Lidl to remedy the situation.
Williams wants Lidl to pay her back for the costs she incurred including for medical tests and getting the asbestos survey carried out. So far they have yet to refund her her costs, she says.
The company honoured its duty of care to its neighbours and communicated throughout the process to ensure the asbestos was removed safely, said a Lidl spokesperson.
“At Lidl, the safety of our colleagues, customers and those in the community is our number one priority,” she says.
Williams says she still supports Lidl building a supermarket on the site and is willing to put up with the disruption from the construction.
“I want a nice supermarket beside me, I want local people to get jobs,” she says. “But I’m living beside a derelict building for 15 years and enough is enough.”