On the corner of North Circular Road and Russell Street – which leads to the main entrance to Croke Park – a large vacant site lies behind a hoarding decorated with faded street art.

The site includes 543 to 553 North Circular Road, as well as 17 to 19 Russell Street. The council owns most of the site – but not all.

The three-storey red-brick buildings at 18 and 18a Russell Street are shuttered. Bushes and weeds grow out of 18a and green moss is visible inside the windows.

Next door, 19 Russell Street has been mostly demolished and the surrounding land is being used as a construction depot.

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam says he has been pushing the council to redevelop it. “The plan was that we would develop the entire site for public housing,” he says. “It’s frustrating in the extreme.”

A council spokesperson said that: “In order to deal with a long-term dereliction issues the Council has decided to acquire adjacent properties facing Russell Street.”

The council has been negotiating with the owners since 2019 and recently reached a deal to buy 18a Russell Street and 553 North Circular Road, says the spokesperson.

That just leaves 18 Russell Street outstanding. But the owner of that property hasn’t agreed to sell to the council, it seems.

At a recent meeting of Dublin City Council’s Central Area Committee, councillors reluctantly agreed to renew the lease of its part of the site to Cairn Construction to use as storage.

They queried the amount of rent the council is charging the builders, and said they would prefer if the council built homes on the vacant site instead.

The lease deal

At the Central Area Committee meeting on 11 July, councillors called on the council to develop the site, which independent Councillor Christy Burke said is “a total and utter eyesore”.

When it came to renewing the lease to Cairn Construction, independent Councillor Nial Ring asked: “Why are we doing this? Surely there is something else that we could be doing with that site.”

He also asked why the council is only charging €1,100 a month for them to use it. “I’m just wondering what is the rationale behind this, and why are Dublin City Council doing what I would call a sweetheart deal?”

A decision to lease what’s known as the Ready Mix Site in East Wall to a construction company is now holding up new homes there, Ring said.

McAdam, the Fine Gael councillor, agreed that the rent charged to the construction company appeared to be low. “It should be many multiples of that.”

He was disappointed too at the council’s lack of progress towards buying the whole site and developing it, he said.

Green Party Councillor Janet Horner said the hoarding around the site is an obstruction.

At some points, it encroaches on the pavement, making it more difficult for wheelchair users or those with buggies to get by, she said. “It’s a really anti-social set-up.”

Dublin City Council Director of Services Karl Mitchell said he was sorry. “I apologise members, I’m very upset about how long it’s going on.”

Dealing with it has been complicated from day one, he said, “with multiple owners”.

The council may need to pursue a legal approach if an agreement can’t be reached with the owners, he said. He said he would discuss it again with the law agent, the council’s legal advisor.

Mitchell didn’t address the question as to whether the rent the council is charging is too low. The council’s press office didn’t address a question as to whether it is line with the market rate.

Asking questions

On 8 April 2004, Dublin City Council applied for planning permission to build 22 homes on a strip which includes 18 Russell Street, which it apparently does not currently own. But it withdrew that application before the end of that month, on 29 April.

Brendan Behan’s childhood home was once a few doors down, at a now-demolished house at 13 Russell Street. The family later moved to Crumlin.

Dublin City Council owns land starting from 17 Russell Street, beside that at 11 to 16 Russell Street, is an apartment complex and restaurant, called Behan Square, built with planning permission granted in 2005.

That complex was developed by M&J Wallace, the company formerly owned by independent MEP Mick Wallace, which is now in liquidation.

In 2006, M&J Wallace submitted another planning application that included 18 Russell Street but that was declared invalid.

But property records don’t show who owns 18 Russell Street, the last property outstanding on the site, now or who did in the past.

McAdam, the Fine Gael councillor, says he has raised questions about the site many times in the past couple of years. And he will ask again about progress, he says.

The council tends to try to negotiate to buy buildings before trying to push through a compulsory purchase order (CPO), because it can be quicker to do it that way, he says.

If the council tries to use a CPO to get a property, it has to go through An Bord Pleanála and the owner can object, says McAdam. “It is cumbersome.”

But if a deal cannot be done soon the council will need to start that process, he says. “My view is that the council should be looking at all and every means possible.”

A council spokesperson said: “If no acquisition agreement can be reached, the Council shall take CPO route, if approved, to acquire this property and to vest any outstanding interests required.”

Dublin City Council has not listed 18 Russell Street on its derelict sites register. If it were – and if any challenges to that had been overruled – the owner would have to pay a levy of 7 percent of the market value for each year it remained derelict.

The council hasn’t responded yet to a query sent on Tuesday 14 August as to why it isn’t on the register.

The council has listed its own portion of the site on the vacant sites register since 2017, making it liable for a levy currently set at 7 percent annually on its €1.6 million valuation.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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