Clerys redevelopment draws objections on scale and working conditions

Architect says store plan will regenerate area while owners say it will create 1,450 direct jobs

The Clerys building: one objector says the planned building work  does not fit with the council’s aim of keeping the area’s historic fabric while architect Henry J Lyons says the new scheme will be sensitive to the building. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

The Clerys building: one objector says the planned building work does not fit with the council’s aim of keeping the area’s historic fabric while architect Henry J Lyons says the new scheme will be sensitive to the building. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Councillors, former workers and a neighbouring business have raised objections to plans to redevelop Clerys, the Dublin department store that shut last year with the loss of 467 jobs.

The O’Connell Street building’s owner, OCS Properties, is seeking permission from Dublin City Council to redevelop it as a hotel, offices, shops and a restaurant, for a reported €150 million.

City councillors Ciarán Cuffe and Nial Ring, Maureen Deans of Justice for Clerys Workers, and hostel owner the Carroll Partnership are among the 43 individuals who submitted “objector letters” to the planning authority.

Ms Deans states that OCS Properties and Deirdre Foley, whose company FAM Assets owns 20 per cent of the Natrium consortium which bought OCS, have “no concept of fair working conditions for workers and there is nothing to suggest that things will change in the future”.

Ensuring that employees have “fair working conditions in this area of special significance to the Irish nation” is one of the aims of Dublin City’s planning scheme for O’Connell Street.

Ms Deans also argues that the planning application does not fit with the council’s aim of keeping the area’s historic fabric.

“Extending the building upwards would materially destroy the iconic historic line of the building and the streetscape of the two buildings, Clerys and the GPO,” she says.

Fair working conditions

Green Party councillor Mr Cuffe repeats the call to assure employees of fair working conditions. Mr Ring, an independent, says that a firm and unequivocal commitment to this must be a condition for any development in the area. Mr Cuffe also argues that local workers should be employed in construction and when the building re-opens.

The Carroll Partnership, which runs a nearby hostel, fears the development will affect space used by its guests and is concerned about building noise.

According to a Natrium statement last night, the redevelopment will create 1,073 building jobs.

“Apprenticeships will be created with many employed from the surrounding area and Dublin’s north inner city,” the statement said. “Once completed there will be 1,450 direct jobs and 1,115 indirect jobs with a contribution of €329.1 million annually to the Irish economy.”

Rory Murphy, of architects Henry J Lyons, argued yesterday that the application provides for the regeneration of a vital quarter of Dublin, with Clerys at its centre, that will enhance the area’s social and economic stability.

“This is a sensitive refurbishment, extension and rejuvenation of the Clerys building,” he said. “The original interior and exterior fabric is to be retained and restored.”

Jobs lost

Clerys closed in June 2015 when Natrium, backed by FAM Assets and UK-based Cheyne Capital, bought OCS Properties, which owned the building and OCS Operations, which ran the department store, for €29 million.

It sold the operating company to an insolvency specialist which successfully petitioned the High Court to have it liquidated. As a result, 130 Clerys employees and about 330 people working for concession holders, lost their jobs in the store.

The transaction and redundancies sparked an outcry from trade unionists and politicians. Earlier this year, inspectors from the Workplace Relations Commission began investigating the circumstances surrounding the redundancy of the Clerys workers.

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