Cherrywood – A 21st-century new town in the making

Michael Murphy, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Amidst the ongoing housing crisis, it is noteworthy that the first apartments in Cherrywood in south Dublin – reputed to be the largest urban development project currently underway in the state – began construction in early August 2019 and are expected to be completed by the end of 2021. These are the first of a predicted 8,000 homes to be delivered in Cherrywood since development recommenced on the site in 2017. While Cherrywood is largely being built and financed by a coalition of global private equity funds, the state has played a significant role in terms of funding and granting Strategic Development Zone status.

Plans for this ‘New Town’ in Cherrywood have been in the making for well over a decade, the site has been dogged by a combination of planning controversies and the small matter of the 2008 property and banking collapse which witnessed the collapse of the property empire of the then site owner and property tycoon Liam Carroll. In July 2014, NAMA, along with Danske Bank and Lloyds, placed much of the Cherrywood development in receivership and towards the end of that year,  US property group Hines with global investment fund King Street Capital swooped to purchase the 400-acre site for €280 million – quite the bargain considering that in 2011 the site was estimated at a value of €1 billion.  The presence of these global financial actors is illustrative of the deepening relationship between real estate and finance that is now ubiquitous in reigniting Dublin’s post-crisis property market.

 

Map indicating the location of the Cherrywood SDZ. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

Cherrywood is essentially a new suburban town, located in the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown local authority area, located between the M50 and the N11, approximately 8km from Dún Laoghaire. The expected 8,000 homes will contain a population in the region of 30,000 people. The town centre which is currently under construction will have retail outlets, a cinema and 1,300 apartments. There is much to admire about the plans with good architecture, an emphasis on local employment, good public transport links, most notably the Luas Green Line which terminates at Brides Glen, however, there has been strong critiques that the town is still too car-dependent. In many respects, Cherrywood represents everything that the Myles Wright and the ‘New Town’ planners of the 1960s envisaged for Tallaght and Blanchardstown but took decades to achieve.

Cranes soar high into the sky over the emerging Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: Michael Murphy

An important factor here is the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) status that Cherrywood enjoys, one of eleven sites around the country that includes Adamstown, two areas in Dublin’s Docklands, and Clonburris in West Dublin which is in the early stages of development. Strategic Development Zones are adopted when a site or development is considered to be of strategic importance to the state. SDZs allow for a more holistic approach to planning and many planners see them as a positive contribution to the planning system – they offer phased housing development whereby infrastructure must accompany houses and the next phase cannot be started until the previous phase has been completed. This is an attempt to avoid the infrastructural problems that bedevilled many previous major urban developments. The establishment of SDZs offer very favourable terms to development interests as they are subject to sweeping planning powers that once the objectives and contents of the strategic plan is agreed and signed off by An Bord Pleanála, the local authority, in this case, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) must grant planning permission to the planning applications that conform with the plan and there is no provision for appeal (See: Murphy, et al., 2014). The planning authority also has powers of compulsory purchase to ensure that sufficient land is available to execute development within the SDZ.  The presence of these features offers great certainty to developers – there is no other planning mechanism available within the Irish planning system that offers the same degree of certainty, hence SDZs are a very valuable spatial unit for developers in which to develop residential and commercial property. So much so that, in their 2011 paper, Fox-Rogers, Enda Murphy and Berna Grist have argued that SDZs ‘demonstrate the facilitation by the state’s legal apparatus of the desire of private interests to secure local economic investment and property development, by creating what can only be described as an inherently pro-development planning environment’. This they argue creates a significant comparative advantage for investors, particularly those in the property development sector, over the general public in the planning system.

 

Artist impression of Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

The Irish state has made a significant contribution to the Cherrywood project; it provided €15 million from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) – a fund introduced in 2016 to speed up the provision of housing by removing infrastructural log jams. The state also enabled the extension of the Luas Green line at Brides Glen which is a fantastic selling point for Cherrywood and as outlined above, the developers in Cherrywood benefit from its SDZ status. In light of these significant interventions by the state and against the backdrop of the ongoing housing crisis it is perhaps surprising that only 10% of the residences in Cherrywood will be social and affordable homes as per the rules around Part V, and given that estimates for apartments are in the region of €250,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and €440,000 for a three-bedroom apartment, they will be way out of reach of many people seeking a home. This begs a question about how serious the government are about the housing crisis when the returns are so low in an area they have designated as a Strategic Development Zone?

 

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