CONOR McGregor’s luxury property development site has him grappling with a brand-new enemy — Japanese knotweed.
The Irish Sun can reveal that Dublin City Council has hammered the UFC star with more planning requirements after the dreaded invasive species was found growing on the spot along the Grand Canal in Drimnagh.
He plans to construct hundreds of build-to-rent apartments after splashing out €19million on land along Davitt Road.
But the 34-year-old’s project has been slowed as developers wrestle with preparing a management plan to KO the Japanese knotweed.
The pesky plant — which can grow through tarmac but is not harmful to humans — is considered one of the most damaging invasive species.
It is extremely difficult to control and can undermine the structural integrity of roads and buildings.
And the plant has been proving a headache for many local authorities, homeowners and businesses around the country.
Banks can refuse to grant mortgages over the presence of vicious vegetation due to the length of time and expense required to remove it.
McGregor bought the former Heidelberg / Miller building and SCR Garage sites for about €15million.
Planning permission for 188 build-to-rent flats and two commercial units had already been secured.
The fighter also purchased an adjacent site that formerly housed a paint shop for several million euro — where he plans on building a further 100-plus apartments.
He is hoping to develop part of this second site as social and affordable housing — but roughly 250 abodes will be rental only.
Earlier this year, local Sinn Fein Councillor Maire Devine blasted the brawler’s venture, saying build-to-rent pads are solely “profit-driven” and won’t help solve the country’s housing crisis.
But McGregor hit back at the criticism and said the property development would be “a showplace when it is finished”.
MILLIONS TO BE SPENT
It is estimated the Crumlin native will spend as much as €100million developing the new residential quarter — which will also include shops, cafes and a supermarket.
A recent survey of the site by DCC confirmed the presence of the savage shrub along both sides of a wall separating the Heidelberg / Miller building and SCR Garage.
Officials informed the developers that before any work takes place they would have to agree “a comprehensive Invasive Species Management Plan” with the planning authority.
And the plans would have to “include detailed measures for the elimination of Japanese knotweed”.
McGregor’s document must also state whether the contaminated material is either destroyed or buried “in sealed cells on site”.
Otherwise, experts would be needed to remove the hazardous herb off site under licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. DCC said the plant must be “eradicated from the development” to protect local biodiversity.
It is an offence to allow or cause to disperse Japanese knotweed. And An Bord Pleanala can reject a development application on the grounds it’s not properly dealt with.
In recent planning documents the proposed plan for dealing with the invasive plant was put forward.
They will “undertake a ‘controlled excavation’ of the material within the development area followed by removal to a licensed landfill”.
‘GOES BENEATH THE SOIL’
It said all excavated material will be disposed off at a specialist facility. The wagons used to cart off the plant will be cleaned from “a bio security perspective” before leaving the landfill to ensure the wicked weed doesn’t spread.
After it is removed, developers will keep tabs on the site for four years to ensure it doesn’t return.
Gardening expert Paraic Horkan explained the dangers associated knotweed, saying it’s definitely not wanted on a development site.
He told The Irish Sun: “It’s an herbaceous plant, which means during the winter, it totally disappears. It goes beneath the soil. You don’t actually see it.
‘GROWS VERY, VERY, VERY QUICKLY’
“So anytime from November through to late February, early March, you won’t know that you actually have it. But as soon as we come into the new growth in March, it starts to grow like asparagus, the young growth is reddish pinkish in colour, and it grows very, very, very quickly.
“You’re talking up to three metres in one year easily. So very vigorous, and it has this ability to spread by underground stems. So it continues to spread if it’s unobstructed.
The horticulturist continued: “It generally is a problem where the foundations are maybe less than adequate or there’s cracks or crevices to allow the roots and the stem to spread in through.
“This happens particularly with tar macadam, gravel, paving slabs lawns, as they give very little resistance to the roots into the stems. It spreads by underground stems, so it’s continually growing, if it’s in an area, within a couple of years it will have spread umpteen metres from that central area.
“It’s on the same scale, if not worse, than the spread of rhododendron. It’s an invasive species at the end of the day. It’s definitely something that you don’t want in your garden, and you certainly don’t want it on a development site.
“So, council’s and planning are dead right to ensure Japanese knotweed is not present on sites.”
Knotweed has caused headaches for other organisations across the country — particularly the GAA.
Clare GAA officials purchased a 1.8-acre site next to Cusack Park but had to spend seven years trying to rid the rogue plant before they able to use it for an intended car park.
And in 2016, Ulster GAA was hit with legal action by a homeowner who claimed that Japanese knotweed at Casement Park in west Belfast was spreading onto their property.
We contacted Heidelberg Davitt Limited as well as reps for McGregor for comment.