The highest suburban retail and office rents in Dublin are on the southside – with Sandyford and Dundrum setting the pace – but travel a little further south along the M50 and you’ll arrive at what’s probably the hottest property prospect in the burbs.
US developer Hines recently secured planning permission for a new town centre at Cherrywood and expects to be on site in the autumn to begin work on 195,096sq m (2.1 million sq ft) of office, retail, leisure and residential space that will take three years to complete and be focused around the Luas line. This will include 1,269 apartments that Hines will rent out, with the first tenants moving in by the third quarter of 2020. When complete, Cherrywood town centre will house more than 3,200 people, provide office space for 2,300 and employment for 2,500 retail and leisure workers.
Cherrywood consists of about 400 acres of land straddling both sides of the M50 south of Loughlinstown and, crucially, these were designated a Special Development Zone (SDZ) in 2010. This allows the council to grant planning permission which cannot be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Development was delayed by the crash and years were spent finessing a masterplan (finally approved in 2014) but it took until the second half of 2017 before the first planning applications were made to the council.
Hines, along with private equity fund King Street Capital, bought the Cherrywood site out of receivership in 2014 for €270 million. It has already completed construction of key infrastructure elements including three parks, an all-weather pitch, six tennis courts, sports pavilion, 5.4kms of roadway, footpaths, cycle paths, greenways and planted more than 3,000 trees. It also recently received permission for a school – the first of six for the new town – to cater for up to 700 pupils.
But the town centre is just one part of a much larger €2 billion scheme that will eventually house 30,000 people and include a whopping 484,474sq m (5,214,781sq ft) of commercial buildings. Ten large landowners in the SDZ are now considering the prospects for other sites at Cherrywood but Hines is already setting the pace with another recent application for 146 apartments – the first outside the town centre.
Cherrywood Business Park
Meanwhile, Cherrywood Business Park is already an established suburban office location. Dunloe Ewart, under the direction of Liam Carroll, developed eight office and retail buildings extending to 54,238sq m (583,839sq ft) there before the crash. Blue-chip tenants include Dell, Abbott, Elavon, Zoetis and Milner Browne.
In March, consultancy and technology giant Accenture agreed a long-term lease to rent 2,787sq m (30,000sq ft) of office space at about €69 per square metre (€25 per square foot). Accenture's office block – the first to be built in the office park since 2010 – is owned by a subsidiary of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The same subsidiary has planning permission for another block opposite the Luas terminus that letting agent QRE says could be delivered within 21 months at a rent of €323 per square metre (€30 per square foot). This would bring Cherrywood office rents on a par with nearby Sandyford – Dublin's prime suburban office location.
However, Cherrywood is unlikely to be the location for a rumoured Ikea store on the southside after An Bord Pleanála turned down a bid by the Swedish flatpack giant to change the council's master plan for the area. Instead, Ikea is reported to be keen on a site in Carrickmines owned by developer Jim Kennedy's Jackson Way and has already opened an order-and-collection point at The Park in Carrickmines.
Given that city-centre office rents are showing signs of settling in the €60-€65 per square foot range – levels last seen at the peak of the boom in 2007 – and that multinationals have the financial firepower to pre-let or bulk-buy (à la Google’s €300 million purchase of Boland’s Quay in the south docklands) new city-centre office space en masse, a number of agents and analysts report that more companies are considering locations outside of Dublin’s central business district.
Underlining this is the fact that Facebook and Google will occupy 38,500sq m (414,410sq ft) and 74,600sq m (803,000sq ft) respectively in the capital by the end of 2018 – that's 4 per cent of all commercial office space – while two-thirds of new office space due to be delivered in the city centre this year is already pre-let, according to Cushman & Wakefield. "This is a real indication of the strength of demand," says Ronan Corbett, head of offices at the agency.
Lisney and CBRE point to heightened leasing activity in Dublin’s suburbs as occupiers seek more cost-effective locations. QRE reports a notable shift in demand to the suburbs, and particularly the south suburbs, where occupancy costs are generally half those in the city centre.
Another advantage is that the suburbs typically have ready-to-go sites that can accommodate the large floor plates favoured by modern office requirements. The potential for building such large office blocks in the city centre – apart from maybe the north docklands – is diminishing all the time as the construction boom builds out available development land. However, construction is still focused on the city centre. Of 40 new-build office schemes under construction in Dublin in the first quarter of 2018, 82 per cent of the space involved was in the city centre.
Sandyford, with easy access to the M50, N11, the Luas and now set to have a stop on the recently announced MetroLink rail service with connectivity to Dublin city centre and airport, has seen rents rise steadily since the crash bottomed out. The area is home to Microsoft, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Vodafone, AIB and Salesforce, while Grade A office vacancy rates are about 5.8 per cent, with headline rents nearing €307 per sq m (€28.50 per sq ft).
Even city-centric Google – employer of some 7,000 people in Ireland – signed up for 4,915sq m (52,900sq ft) of space at Sandyford's The Chase block in February, which represents a marked departure from its real-estate strategy. Kennedy Wilson, owner of the block, reports rent up 20 per cent since May 2016.
Tanya Duffy, research analyst at Lisney, says the south suburbs typically account for about one-fifth of office take-up each year. The area's vacancy rate, which peaked in 2009 at 26.3 per cent, has "declined substantially" to stand at 12.9 per cent by the end of March 2018. "Notably, there are just three locations that can facilitate occupiers looking for space in excess of 5,000sq m (53,819sq ft) but there is still a relatively good choice of modern buildings in the south suburbs up to 1,000sq m (10,764sq ft)," she says.
Another interesting development angle for Sandyford emerged recently after Swedish student accommodation specialist Prime Living was reportedly behind the €10.3 million purchase of a site at the junction of Blackthorn Road and Carmanhall Road. Prime Living expects, subject to planning permission, to build a student complex with about 700 bed spaces as part of a €31.5 million investment. The location, about 3km from UCD and a five-minute walk from two Luas stations, affords relatively easy access to Trinity College, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the emerging DIT campus at Grangegorman. It's interesting to note that UK developer U+I paid €6.5 million for the 1.8-acre site in 2015, which means its value has risen by 58 per cent in three years.
Dublin Airport Central
Construction of the first new-build suburban offices since 2011 on the northside is under way at Dublin Airport Central, where Daa (formerly known as the Dublin Airport Authority) has permission for four six- and seven-storey blocks with an overall capacity of 41,700sq m (448,854sq ft). Development of this 70-acre business park was brought forward after Daa successfully redeveloped the former Aer Lingus headquarters at Dublin Airport and let it to ESB International. ESBI is paying a rent of about €297 per sq m (€27.60 per sq ft) for the 7,524sq m (81,000sq ft) block – a major saving on what it was paying for space on St Stephen's Green.
In terms of suburban retail, the big five shopping centres – Dundrum Town Centre, The Square Tallaght, Liffey Valley, The Pavilions in Swords, and Blanchardstown – recorded about 30 big letting deals in 2017. Most of the big five have planning permission to expand – Blanchardstown, for example, has applied to build an additional 13,000sq m (140,000sq ft) of retail space – but a key trend is a move to make themselves into much more than mere shopping destinations. The Pavilions, for example, is developing a new leisure and restaurant quarter which will open by the end of 2018, with US burger chain Five Guys and Milanos already signed up for space.
Giving people more reasons to visit and linger in shopping centres is very much about competing with online shopping, which Irish consumers are taking to with gusto. Retail Ireland reported recently of a growing disconnect between increasing consumer disposable income and the “unspectacular” performance of some traditional retail categories. This is because online shopping is profoundly changing consumer spending patterns.
Marie Hunt of CBRE suggests many retailers do the bulk of their sales online and, rather than have stores in every big town or shopping centre, they're after a flagship outlet in a high-profile location and using that as promotion for their online presence.
Yet suburban retail assets are still in demand by investors, if May's purchase by Deutsche Bank of Westend Retail Park in Blanchardstown for €148 million is anything to go by.
New suburban retail space is also being developed. Work on redeveloping the Frascati shopping centre in Blackrock, for example, is well advanced, which will bring the floor area from 10,239sq m (110,200sq ft) to just over 16,000sq m (172,222sq ft). Aldi is set to join existing anchor tenants Marks & Spencer and Debenhams.
Across the road at the 1984-built Blackrock Shopping Centre, a €10 million upgrade is well under way, which will include a new glazed roof. Work on an adjoining site is also well advanced on a 6,503sq m (70,000sq ft) office block for Zurich Insurance.
Another interesting suburban property prospect, which may be realised in the medium to long term, is the plan for a new town of 21,000 at Clonburris, about 10km southwest of Dublin city centre. About 280 hectares, on both sides of the Dublin-Kildare railway line and Grand Canal, has been designated an SDZ and a masterplan was recently approved by South Dublin county councillors. Clonburris abuts Adamstown, the State’s first SDZ, where a new town of 8,000 homes is slowly emerging after a masterplan was first agreed way back in 2003.