Glass Bottle Company site affordable homes funding focus of doubt

No ‘commercial agreement’ reached for 600-plus housing unit plan, Nama says

Concerns are mounting for the provision of more than 600 affordable homes at the former Irish Glass Bottle Company site in Ringsend after the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) said there was no agreement on State funding for the housing.

In a letter seen by The Irish Times, the agency says "Despite Nama's best efforts" no "commercial agreement" had been reached between Dublin City Council and the Department of Housing for the affordable homes the Government in 2017 committed to fund.

More than 3,500 apartments are planned for the site. Under planning laws 10 per cent of the new homes must be sold to Dublin City Council for social housing. However, in May 2017, in order to secure councillors' approval for the redevelopment plans, then minister for environment Simon Coveney agreed State funding would be made available for an additional 650 affordable homes.

In late 2018, the council's head of housing, Brendan Kenny, said a deal between the council, the Department of Housing and Nama on the affordable housing provision was in final stages of agreement. "What is still being worked out is the price," Mr Kenny said.


Negotiation stage

In June 2019, the council again said it was at an advanced stage of negotiation, in relation to funding. However, Nama at the end of last month, in response to queries from a local housing group, confirmed the deal was never finalised.

“Despite Nama’s best efforts, no commercial agreement could be agreed to by Dublin City Council with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government prior to the competitive process commencing in July 2019.”

In July of last year, Nama began a sales process on the site seeking cash bids in excess of €125 million for an 80 per cent stake.

In July of this year developer Johnny Ronan and US investment firm Colony Capital were named as preferred bidders for the 80 per cent controlling stake, although it is understood this deal has yet to be finalised.

The letter from Nama to the IGB Housing Action Group states "Under the planning conditions stipulated by An Bord Pleanála, the commercial agreement will have to be resolved. This will be a matter for whoever ultimately ends up controlling the site."

Bargaining chip

A spokesman for the housing group said it was “deeply concerned” an agreement on the funding of the affordable housing had not been finalised prior to the site sale.

“This should have been done and dusted years ago. Now there is a private developer involved that will only complicate matters.”

The group felt there was a danger the affordable housing would be used as a bargaining chip.

Local Labour councillor Kevin Donoghue said the delay in reaching a deal centred on the cost of the housing was particularly worrying.

The site represented the “only meaningful opportunity” to secure affordable homes in the area. “It would be a catastrophic failure for the Department of Housing not to come through on this.”

The council said queries should be referred to the Department of Housing

A spokesman for the department said it remained committed to working with the council and other parties “in order to progress this site, subject to agreement on all the normal and relevant terms, including value-for-money aspects”. The Ronan group said it had no comment to make.

The Glass Bottle Company site was bought in 2006 for €412 million by a consortium involving developer Bernard McNamara and State body the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. Nama bought the debt associated with the site from the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank after the property crash.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times