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Planning appeals: When developers are the ones offering go-away money

Builder approached resident in 2018 with offer of cash incentive to withdraw objection to west Dublin co-living scheme

An Bord Pleanála granted permission forthe co-living development but local residents took a High Court challenge to the decision

A recent flurry of scandals alleging planning appellants sought “go-away money” from developers to drop objections, particularly to housing developments, has gripped Government to the extent that legislation is expected this summer to make the practice illegal.

What has received less attention is where builders are not being squeezed, but instead are offering unsolicited cash incentives to residents to withdraw appeals against development schemes.

In 2018 Bartra, the company founded by the developer Richard Barrett three years earlier, bought Brady’s pub in Castleknock. Permission was already in place to demolish the pub and replace it with a 36-apartment development.

However, Bartra, already becoming a significant player in the apartment market, had greater ambitions. In 2019 it applied for a 210-bedspace co-living scheme on the site.


Co-living was a new apartment category introduced the previous year by then minister for housing Eoghan Murphy to allow developments where shared kitchen and living facilities served multiple en suite rooms, similar to student accommodation.

Mr Murphy had at the time described it as an “exciting” choice and similar to a “very trendy” boutique hotel, while housing activists and opposition politicians characterised them as modern-day bedsits.

In January 2020, An Bord Pleanála granted Bartra permission for the Brady’s co-living development. Local residents took a High Court challenge to the decision and in June of that year the board conceded the case.

Two months later Bartra resubmitted the co-living application, which was again approved by the board in early December 2020. Later that month Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien signed into law a ban on co-living developments. As the Brady’s planning permission preceded this ban, Barta could still implement it as long as there were no further challenges.

There were, however. Local resident Barry O’Lone, whose family home is opposite the pub, secured permission from the High Court in February 2021 to bring judicial review proceedings against the board.

This case was not resolved so quickly and it wasn’t until last month the High Court quashed the board’s decision. The board did write to Mr O’Lone in June of last year, however, telling him it intended to end its opposition to his High Court challenge.

Bartra had anticipated this move and in April 2023 also wrote to Mr O’Lone. Mike Flannery, chief executive of Bartra, offered a “cash compensation payment of €100,000″ if he would withdraw his case to “reflect the commercial advantage to us and your concern about the harm to your amenity”.

Mr O’Lone was given four weeks to accept the offer, and if he did not Bartra would “lodge a new application for a social housing development”.

Mr Flannery explained Bartra had experience building social housing schemes at nearby Clonross in Blanchardstown and in relation to the Brady’s site would be “aiming to sell or lease the homes on completion to the local authority or an Approved Housing Body”.

Bartra would apply for approximately 65 apartments on the site, Mr Flannery said, in blocks up to five storeys high, the same height as the proposed co-living scheme.

Mr O’Lone did not accept the offer and in the days before the High Court issued its orders, Bartra did apply for an apartment scheme, of 56 one- and two-bed apartments, in heights up to five storeys.

Permission for 200-bed co-living development in Castleknock quashedOpens in new window ]

The new planning application does not indicate the future tenure of the apartments. But, as a local resident pointed out, it is not for Bartra but for the local authority to determine where social housing is located.

In response to queries Fingal County Council said it “cannot comment in any way in relation to any future negotiations with developers or potential acquisitions by Fingal County Council”.

The resident, who did not wish to be named, but supported Mr O’Lone, said there was a desire locally to see the site, which has become derelict, developed. He said he accepted that any new homes would be higher density than the surrounding two-storey houses but said any development should still be in keeping with the suburban area.

Local Labour councillor John Walsh, who has been assisting residents, said the cash offer was “extraordinary” and had “no place in a properly functioning planning system”.

“In recent times we have become increasingly aware of concerns around abuses of the planning system by ‘professional litigants’. On this occasion, we have seen a striking example of an equally unacceptable practice, an offer of ‘cash compensation’ seeking the withdrawal of a legal challenge which was about to succeed.”

While the new legislation is designed to deal with litigants targeting developers for cash, it will cover any cases where “the withdrawal of the proceedings” is “for the purpose of securing the payment”.

The court’s decision puts an end to the potential of co-living on the Brady’s site, and to new co-living applications in general, given the time since the ban was signed. Bartra did, however, manage to get small number through the system before the ban, with one already opened in Dún Laoghaire and two more in Ballsbridge and Rathmines on the way under its Niche Living brand.