UCD land that was “perfect for development” idle for 10 years

Photo credit: Niamh O'Regan[br]UCD has no plans to further develop a site that it received from Denis O’Brien as part of a land swap concluded between 2007 and 2008. It was expected that student accommodation could be developed on the site.A governing authority document from 2008 detailed that UCD would “now [have] a site, adjacent to the Belgrove apartments that will enable expansion of these apartments.” Multiple other recommendations at the time claimed that the site could be used to develop Belgrove further.UCD’s campus development plan 2016-2026, released in August 2016, shows no plans for building on the site. There have also been no planning applications submitted for the site. This is despite extensive plans for new accommodation across campus.The UCD-owned Roebuck land currently houses a car park. The land acquired by Denis O’Brien from UCD has recently been granted planning permission for luxury apartments. It is estimated that he will make approximately €50 million from the development.A 2010 report by Sherry Fitzgerald of the transaction stated that they believed O’Brien would “build no more than two houses on the Thornfield site.”UCD exchanged land it owned at Thornfield with land at Roebuck owned by O’ Brien. UCD also received a cash payment of €15 million under the deal. €8 million of this would go towards the building of the new Student Centre, while the cost of contractual obligations under the deal would have to be paid out of the payment.UCD had considered the land at Thornfield to be unfit for the development of student accommodation given the amount of private two-storey houses surrounding the site. However a Costello Commerical report and valuation of the lands in 2007 described the land as a “prime residential area” with potential for more than 50 dwellings.Advice that UCD received at the time appears to have been highly favourable towards the deal. Sherry Fitzgerald and Costello Commercial, both appointed to oversee the deal, stated multiple times that the Roebuck site would be a good choice for future development of student accommodation.A report by Grant Thornton, hired to provide a cost-benefit analysis of which site would be better to build on, concluded that building costs would be high and potential revenues would be lower on the Thornfield site, and that it would ultimately make a financial loss. The Roebuck site was put up for sale by the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2007. At the time UCD made a bid for the land. O’Brien’s company also made an offer “totally in excess of market value,” according to the Sherry Fitzgerald report. Shortly thereafter he made a proposal to UCD to acquire their land at Thornfield. Both sites are roughly the same size, but the Thornfield land also has access to the N11.Six bids were submitted to the Little Sisters of the Poor when the Roebuck land went up for sale. Documents released to the University Observer also acknowledge that UCD was approached by several student accommodation operators at the time. They offered to buy the Roebuck land and develop accommodation if UCD entered into a long-term occupancy lease with them.UCD have declined to comment on future plans for the land. landswap_body-belgrove-roebuck_Map_ucd.ie