Bartra told to cut 20 bedrooms from ‘Dickensian’ co-living development in Dun Laoghaire


Developer Bartra Capital Property Group will need to shave off up to 20 beds from its proposed co-living development in Dun Laoghaire to meet guidelines proposed by An Bord Pleanala in relation to a similar development at a location in west Dublin.

An Bord Pleanala last month refused Bartra’s plans to develop 222 co-living spaces and 160 apartments in three blocks on the former Cookstown industrial estate in Tallaght. The proposal was knocked back pending the drawing of a local area plan by South Dublin county council.

In refusing the permission, the planning board said the co-living element “had a notable shortfall in the quantitative and qualitative provisions of sufficient communal facilities”. Critically, the authority gave an indication of what it deemed to be sufficient.

Bartra, a pioneer of co-living in this country, has attracted criticism for its plans to develop a 208-bed co-living block on a former school on Eblana Avenue in Dun Laoghaire. The original plans, which are due to be adjudicated upon within the next three weeks, included a proposal for one kitchen per 40 residents.

Following the An Bord Pleanala guides on Tallaght, there will be three or four smaller kitchen and communal areas per floor, while the Dun Laoghaire plans, almost certain to be rejected at first turn, will be redrawn on this basis.

Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe described the Dun Laoghaire development as “Dickensian” and said that it offered a view of a “dystopian” property market. Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Fein president, described co-living as “a glamorised form of tenement living”.

The setback in Tallaght could be a turning point for co-living. Mike Flannery, chief executive of Bartra, said that the reduction in rooms would still leave a return for investors in the Dun Laoghaire project.

He believes the criticism of co-living is rooted in the deeply political discourse on the housing crisis. “One commentator said co-living was not a cure-all or panacea for the Irish housing market. Well, nobody said it was a panacea,” said Flannery. “It is a niche, it represents less than 1% of the rental market. It is not for everyone.”

Flannery, a former senior executive at public transport provider CIE, said co-living would serve a neglected and under-pressure part of the market: the single occupier.

“It is very difficult for a single person to compete with a couple for a one-bed apartment,” he said.

A one-bedroom apartment in Dublin will rent for €1,800. Co-living beds will rent for about €1,300 a month.

Under government guidelines, co-living is restricted to areas close to the city centre, acute hospitals or high concentrations of employment. It targets areas where private rental demand, and single dwellers in particular, are prevalent. Co-living allows plenty of scope for developers.

Bartra, which is chaired by former Treasury Holdings boss Richard Barrett, is developing a total of four co-living projects under its Niche Living brand. Apart from Dun Laoghaire and Tallaght, it has withdrawn a planning application for a development at Ardee Road in Rathmines to take account of the planning board observations on Cookstown. A fourth development is planned for close to Blanchardstown hospital.

Bartra is also involved in five social housing projects and a number of build-to-rent apartment schemes. “If people believe the solution to the housing crisis is exclusively a three-bed, semi-detached house, then the country will soon be carpeted with houses,” said Flannery.

Operationally, says Flannery, the developments are more akin to a long-stay aparthotel than an apartment block. Communal areas are cleaned by full-time staff, and there is a gym, home cinema and entertaining area with separate kitchen. While the single unit size, at 16.5 sq m, has been a focus of criticism, it is considerably larger than the standard bedroom size for a one-bed apartment.

Flannery said Bartra was backing the concept because there would be “a strong and sustainable demand for it”. The Collective, a UK co-living provider, has bought a site on Fumbally Lane in Dublin 8, while Spencer Place, a Ronan Group Real Estate development in the docklands, also has provision for a co-living development.

For Flannery, the model reflects the changing profile of the workforce here.

Many workers come to Dublin from other countries and, indeed, other parts of Ireland, working on six- to 12-month contracts. He said an agency for one multinational employer was seeking a total accommodation supply with a rent roll of €5m annually for employees and contractors, including international staff on secondment here.

Co-living aims to fill part of that demand, said Flannery.

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