West Cork group save unfinished development from becoming another ghost estate

A group of people who bought an unfinished holiday village, complete with a leisure centre and pool, saving the development from becoming a ‘ghost estate’, believe their novel approach could be replicated on distressed property around the country.

The team behind the group purchase of the development in Co Cork have spent countless hours, and tens of thousands of euro, complying with planning conditions over the last five years, and believe it is now ready to be taken in charge by the local authority.

Owen Dinneen, a spokesman for the residents of the Mountain View estate, just east of the pretty coastal village of Glengarrif in West Cork, said it has been a long but worthwhile journey.

“We’ve ticked every box and we are hopeful that certificates of compliance will be issued soon by Cork County Council,” he said. “Now that we’re at the end of the road, we are looking forward to the council taking this beautiful estate in charge.

“And we would be delighted to sit down with other interested groups around the country and talk them through the process we have been through.

“It won’t suit everyone, but it is a solution in certain cases to the problem of ghost estates, particularly in the case of estates built as holiday villages.”

The 23-house Mountain View estate and leisure centre was built as a holiday village on foot of planning permission granted in 2004.

Nine houses were sold but the Anglo Irish Bank-funded Limerick development partnership ran out of money during the property crash and while the remaining houses were built, the interiors and landscaping were largely unfinished.

Following a lengthy legal process, the 14 distressed homes were placed on the market for more than two years, through a bank-appointed receiver, but several offers from prospective investors or speculators fell through.

Then, in mid-2011, a remarkable offer emerged.

Barry McSweeney, the first science advisor to the Government, put together a group of 14 private mortgage-free buyers, some with links to Glengarrif, who were interested in buying the development.

With the help of local auctioneer John O’Neill of Celtic Properties, they negotiated with the receiver, and sealed the deal on the remarkable group purchase — leisure centre included.

The deal on the houses was concluded in and around Christmas 2012, with each of the buyers spending around €75,000 for the three-bedroom houses and each facing a spend of at least another €10,000 to finish them off.

The four-star rental homes had been on the market previously for around €150,000.

Mr McSweeney, who died in 2014, said around the time of the deal: “I had seen the scheme being built and was impressed, but the developers just ran out of money to finish it.

“I didn’t want a ghost estate or a Famine village on Glengarriff’s doorstep, and decided to do something about it instead.

“And, I reckon it will work in other places where you have enough committed local buyers.”

He added that while the bank considered the leisure centre a liability in the sale, the buyers saw it as an asset for the entire community.

He was even contacted by other banks and receivers to see if he could apply his experience in this case to similar sales elsewhere.

However, closing the deal on the purchase of the houses was just the first step.

The residents, through the management company they established, Glengarriffe Mountain View Management Company Ltd, had applied to Cork County Council a year earlier for planning permission for retention of change of use of the dwellings, which were originally permitted in 2004 for managed short-term holiday rental occupation, to dwelling houses with unrestricted occupancy.

Through a series of detailed reports, council planners accepted the development had been idle for several years and was run-down, and granted planning with conditions, including the setting up of a legally incorporated management company which would be responsible for the maintenance of public lighting, roads, footpaths, parking areas, water, wastewater and open spaces, and the installation of a hydrocarbon interceptor to protect groundwater.

However, the buyers were also hit with a €12,800 special contribution which went towards the completion of a 250 sq m section of the N71 — a strip of road between the road edge and the footpath — which ran from the estate entrance to the village edge.

The council’s decision was appealed to An Bórd Pleanála, which subsequently upheld the decision and conditions.

Mr Dinneen said the residents have completed their homes and spent thousands fulfilling the various conditions.

“We hope to move soon from working through a formal management company to a residents’ association — which is really what it has felt like all along,” he said.

“None of us are engineers, none of us are experts in this kind of thing, but we all had one common goal and purpose — to make this work.”

The legal ownership of just one of the houses is still unclear, and the residents are still paying for the maintenance and upkeep of the disused leisure centre.

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