Sunday 29 June 2008

Doubts surround redevelopment future of Finglas shopping centre

Doubts have been raised about whether developer Bernard McNamara's plans to rebuild Finglas Main Centre will now go ahead, even though a long standing dispute with a local trader over the proposal has been resolved.

A decision is expected this week on whether to go ahead with plans to redevelop the site to include 14 retail units; 160 apartments; a library; a creche, and a number of offices.

A multi-storey car park with 310 spaces is also planned for the site. Reconstruction of the centre is the first element in a wider city council backed plan to redevelop the entire northside suburb.

Although a dispute with a local publican over access to the car park area which dragged on for years has been settled, negotiations with some tenants and leaseholders trading in the existing centre have also proved contentious.

Despite the fact that project managers Spain Courtney Doyle have arranged alternative temporary rent-free accommodation for traders while construction is underway, at least one business owner is believed to be resisting the proposal.

While the project managers have set a deadline of 1 July for agreement with the traders, some local politicians believe a decision has already been taken to scrap the reconstruction plan entirely.

"This project is dead in the water, I believe," says local Sinn Féin councillor Dessie Ellis. "I chaired a recent meeting between the developers and local politicians and they were at pains to point out the reality of the credit crunch and how there was a question mark over whether or not they could sell the apartments.

"Including a clause about a deadline for agreement with the traders in the deal struck over the car park issue seemed strange at the time. But we believed that forcing the issue would speed the project along. I believe they've made up their minds that it's not viable in the current economic climate to proceed with the project. Had an agreement been reached two or three years ago, then I think it would have gone ahead."

Bernard McNamara purchased the centre five years ago for €14m and was subsequently granted planning permission to redevelop the site. That permission is due to expire in July 2009.

"If that were to happen there's no guarantee that permission would be renewed automatically," says local Labour party TD Roisin Shortall. "And even if it were, one appeal could hold it up for a further nine months. McNamara says that traders have been holding up the project, and while that's true, I'm sure that if he wanted to get building underway he could have sorted that out.

"The demand isn't there for the housing element of the project. There are housing schemes in the area where phase one has been slow to sell and developers have held off on phase two.

"Finglas is a victim of the lack of communication between local authorities. The city council's regeneration plan was already in place when Fingal went ahead with the nearby Charlestown centre. That rendered the Finglas plan nonviable in my view. There is a strong sense that Finglas has missed the boat."

The council's regeneration strategy includes proposals for a new village square as well as new commercial and residential development in the general area.

Planning permission has been granted for the redevelopment of the Superquinn site and for the credit union site on Seamus Ennis Road.

"There are plans to redevelop the entire village," a spokesman for the council's planning department says. "The Main Centre scheme was seen as the development that would kick start start the entire project."

"Businesses have been losing out because of the uncertainty over the main centre project," says Declan Maloney of the Finglas Traders' Association.

"It's now down to the developer whether or not the scheme goes ahead."

Project managers Spain Courtney Doyle did not respond to an invitation to comment on the matter.

Sunday Tribune

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