The Tánaiste along with developer Michael O’Flynn says the northside has massive potential. Kevin O’Neill looks at what’s on offer.
An influx of young professionals has changed the complexion of the housing market on the northside of Cork city.
The presence of Apple’s European headquarters in Hollyhill continues to drive interest in areas like Cathedral Road and Gurranabraher, according to local sellers, who say that it is proof that more new homes are required in the area.
A vast number of proposed houses and apartments are stuck in the planning process for sites across the northside, an issue which is slowing down the market. It is the same picture as seen within Cork city and the southside, with supply failing to meet demand particularly for workers seeking an urban dwelling.
Both north and south of the river, there are young professionals working in and around the city centre, with many more on the way as massive office developments continue to be developed. But while a series of large-scale apartment and housing proposals are mooted on the southside, this has not been mirrored on the northside, or at least not on the same scale.
As a result, the market is lagging quite a bit behind areas south of the river. The median price of properties sold on the Northside in 2019 to date is €230,000, according to the CSO. This is €15,000 less than the national median and €65,000 less than the median sale price on the city southside.
On the northside, just 18% of properties are bought by non-occupiers and investors and first-time buyers represent 35% of the market, whereas the investors represent a larger slice of the pie on the southside, accounting for 21% of sales in a much more active market.
Sales in both areas are steady: there have not been huge fluctuations in the number of units being sold in either north or southside in some time. However, there is huge price disparity between the two areas. Some 40 houses were sold in August 2019 on the northside, according to the CSO.
Month-by-month, this doesn’t change dramatically and it is identical to the same month in 2018. In comparison, on the southside, more than 100 units are sold most months. In August, there were 101 sales recorded in the T12 Southside area by the CSO.
According to Michael Downey of ERA Downey McCarthy, things are looking up, though. He says young professionals are eyeing up the northside as they want to be near to work.
A trend here is that public transport is a crucial part of the decision to live in the area. Many of the people targeting these properties want access to the 202-bus route, which goes to Apple on the northside and Mahon on the southside as a primary form of transport.
“They are happy with buses or bikes,” Mr Downey says. “That is how they have lived in other European cities and it is what they want to do here, too.”
A recent development in the market is the slowdown in sales of so-called “fixer-uppers”, Mr Downey says. “If you have a well-finished home, that you can walk in to with little work, those are selling very well,” he says.
“But properties that need to be done up, those that need an extra €50,000 put into them, are a struggle. Quite simply, it is not possible to get builders to do the required work to finish them and, as such, people would rather spend [in the region of] €260,000 on a finished house instead.”
As on the south side, Mr Downey says a lack of new developments is undermining the market. He says that there has been next to no completed new estates or apartments in the city centre area for some time.
It’s a concern that led to a Cork Chamber and Construction Industry Federation report in September that warned the shortage of affordable city homes could put a pause on economic growth in Cork. The chamber warned that Cork needs 27,300 new housing units by 2031 to meet growth targets but that the economic model doesn’t currently stack up for first-time buyers or developers.
There are some interesting moves on the northside, though they are small ones. The developers of a series of new high-end properties in Montenotte - dubbed Arbutus - revealed their pricing structure in recent weeks, with Cohalan Downing the three and four-bed townhouses starting at €720,000 per unit.
Among the main selling points is the view: the units have a spectacular, unhindered view of the River Lee, the docklands and the city centre, but for the developers, it does not stop at the vista. The 16 units are all A-rated energy units and finished to the highest quality on the south-facing hillside adjacent to the 19th-Century Arbutus Lodge.
Most of the sales in the Montenotte area concern the older properties in the area. Many of these have been snapped up as entire units and remodelled as apartments or shared rental properties, something that has contributed to the number of young professionals in the area.
However, earlier in 2019, there was a spike in interest as the first new development for some time in the area went to market. A trio of ultra-modern houses, just off St Luke’s Cross, landed on the market in January. From builders Laide & O’Brien and designed by architect Donal Hoare, they were on Alexandra Road, and were listed for sale at €545,000.
The compact units boasted 1800sq ft of floor space and impressive car and storage space, despite the relatively small footprint. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t last too long before being snapped but it spoke to the demand for modern, city centre living.
Elsewhere, north of the River Lee, it has been a mixed bag in recent times. The expansion of the city boundary earlier this year has changed the picture a little but some of the long-held ambitions for the city pre-extension remain just that: ambitions.
With the Port of Cork set to vacate its Tivoli base in the coming years, the area was described by Tanaiste Simon Coveney at the Irish Examiner’s ‘Cork on the Rise’ event in April as having the potential to be “the Blackrock of the northside”.
In the coming years, more than 10,000 people could call Tivoli home, but getting large-scale developments through planning continues to be a blight on expansion north of the Lee.
Controversial plans to build more than 200 apartments on the former Good Shepherd Convent site in Sunday’s Well have not moved forward, despite An Bord Pleanála upholding a planning decision almost 12 months ago.
In fact, earlier this year, the site was listed for sale on the open market for more than €6.5 million, only to be removed in mid-September after five months.
The proposal had been a controversial one. It included 182 apartments and 20 houses on the historic convent site but had drawn criticism from residents in Sunday’s Well, Shanakiel and Blarney Street, who claimed that the local infrastructure and road network could not sustain the additional traffic that development would bring.
The developers - and those who supported the development - had claimed that it was an ideal project for workers in two of the city’s biggest employers: Apple and UCC. Both of these would be an easy commute for anyone in the area but, as yet, the long-term future of the site remains in limbo.
Another long-awaited project appears to be as distant as ever. The Old Whitechurch Road site, a massive land bank owned by Cork City Council, has made slow progress in recent times but the reality of anyone living on the site still appears to be a remote short-term prospect. The local authority claims that the site is ideal for affordable housing, something which is badly needed.
Central government funding was issued to bring the site up to spec and aid with the addition of water, gas and telecommunications connections, but the building work of some 600-plus affordable homes is not expected any time soon due to the complexities of the site.
It has long been a crucial element of the City Council’s strategy for housing in the city but will not come on stream soon enough to alleviate demand in the area. Where progress has been seen on the north side of the city, though, is in the Kerry Pike and Blarney areas. Both were under the jurisdiction of Cork County Council until recently but are a very convenient commute for those in or near the city centre.
For Kerry Pike, the latest major development to come to the market launched in recent weeks. Clonlara, a mix of three and four-bed homes, launched from €320,000 in mid-October, with the top end of the market selling from €515,000.
In all, with more than 140 homes, the final development should make a significant dent in the nature of the market in the city centre as a whole. Back in the city centre, there are signs of life in many areas.
A series of small developments in the Blackpool area promises to bring renewed life to the village which has struggled of late. Dereliction became an issue here in recent years but the new houses, many under construction already through Cork City Council and approved housing bodies, are transforming that, while the regeneration of the Knocknaheeny area is continuing at pace too.
In April, the Irish Examiner launched Cork on the Rise, a series of content and events aimed at mapping the city’s future
It was at that event, that Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty admitted her concerns that “people of the northside do not feel part of the city, because they very much are”.
She spoke of the need to regenerate the northside, with work having already started on the western side of the city.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney set out his expectations for development on the northside: “I think you’ll see a lot of development on the northside of the city, places like Glanmire growing and expanding and becoming part of the city.
“You’ll see essentially a new urban centre essentially in Tivoli. It will be a bit like the Blackrock of the northside,except with much higher density.
Developer Michael O’Flynn spoke about Ballyvolane’s potential, saying it was an area of “massive potential” which could look to Ballincollig as an example for its growth.
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