The facts of office vacancy in Dublin are well known. It is going to get worse. Where are the policies to address this huge issue?
Last Friday, Killian Woods in the Business Post reported on a new piece of analysis by BNP Paribas Real Estate Ireland, saying Dublin would require 78,000 extra jobs to fill the oversupply of 250,000 square metres of office space that will be embedded in the city by next year. This is the equivalent of more than 15 times the number of full-time Google employees in Ireland, 10 times the personnel of the Irish Army, more than twice the number of post-primary school workers in the entire country, and more than 14 times the size of Dublin City Council’s staff. On what planet is this even logical?
To put the size of this office space oversupply in context, an area of 250,000 square metres stretches from the National Gallery, westward to Marks & Spencer on Grafton Street, north to the intersection of O’Connell Bridge on the south quays, and eastward to Talbot Bridge, taking in almost the entire Trinity College campus. This is an area of 62 acres, or 34 soccer pitches.
Considering there are just currently 330 rental properties listed on Daft.ie (including student accommodation and bedsits for rent) across the entire city postcodes of Dublin 1, Dublin 2, Dublin 7 and Dublin 8 combined, someone is not joining the dots. The number of new workers that would be required to fill this space – should that even be possible, which it’s not – betrays the complete absence of any kind of cohesive planning, not just regarding labour market projections, but especially regarding housing.
Ghost offices pockmark the city. They are the new ghost estates. This was utterly predictable. When I cycle around the capital now, as I do almost every day, the streetscapes are becoming increasingly incoherent with vacant office buildings, most of which are incredibly ugly. Now we’re stuck with them. Vacancy and dereliction are often illustrated by the old and the crumbling, but that’s only part of the problem (and it is a big problem in itself). Dublin’s new era of vacancy is high-end office blocks. This is an astonishing, almost cavalier use of land, construction power, materials and time. For what? We don’t need any more of this stuff.
The urban fabric of Dublin is increasingly becoming defined by dysfunction, and a key strand of this dysfunction looks and feels an awful lot like Celtic Tiger-era delusion
When I look at these hulking blocks now, in Smithfield, on Dawson Street, around Tara Street, all I can think of is how amazing it would have been had flats been built instead. There could have been thousands of affordable homes built in the city centre instead of this foolhardy construction. At a time when we’re told it’s almost impossible to build housing due to construction costs – despite the fact that there is an acute demand for housing – there appears to have been no issue in throwing up office blocks at volume, scale, and speed, despite the collapsing demand.
The depressing part is the waste. We’re not making any more land. For now, as people sleep on the streets, as families are holed up in hostels and hotel rooms, as refugees and asylum-seekers pitch tents, as adults fall asleep in their childhood bedrooms wondering when the day will arrive when they can decorate their own place and have friends over for dinner and solve the world’s problems across their own kitchen table, as immigrant workers are stacked in bunk beds in what are effectively tenements across the capital, as students fall asleep on buses while they commute to Dublin for hours to attend their college lectures, as couples and families queue in the rain to view flats with dozens of others, as young people travel to the airport and port as they are exiled by the rental crisis, and as people are evicted, the sound of silence already echoes through the countless empty corridors of dead-end office blocks in Dublin city. Their vast lobbies are desolate, the sunlight shaded by “to let” vinyl signs stretched across floor-to-ceiling glass. The boardrooms gather dust. And the clattering of construction continues. There’s still more to come.
Woods also reported that three-fifths of the office space under construction in Dublin has no future tenants lined up. This is madness. The pace of job growth in Ireland is slowing. A jobs growth of 78,000 – required to fill these new offices – is 1,000 more jobs than mayor Eric Adams is predicting for New York City for 2024, while that city’s comptroller is much more pessimistic, predicting a growth of 27,000 jobs. That’s a city of eight and a half million people, the largest municipal economy in North America, and characterised as the world’s largest financial, media and advertising centre.
The urban fabric of Dublin is increasingly becoming defined by dysfunction, and a key strand of this dysfunction looks and feels an awful lot like Celtic Tiger-era delusion – but this time around it is the commercial – not residential – property market that is on the brink. The wheels have come off, and no one is shouting stop.