Sunday, 31 October 2010

Public to have their say on underground DART plan

PASSENGERS will be able to give their views on plans to build a railway tunnel underneath Dublin city centre when a public hearing begins next month.

An Bord Pleanala will open an oral hearing into the €3bn DART underground project in November which is expected to last for at least a month.

Almost 280 parties have made submissions including government departments, politicians and residents groups.

If approved by the board, it would result in the capital having two DART lines -- one from Maynooth to Bray, and a second from Hazelhatch/Celbridge to Howth.

And Iarnrod Eireann says if the Government approves the €3bn project, the equivalent of 25 million car kilometres will be taken off the roads and there will be 30 fewer road collisions in the capital.

The confidential business report also says that 2,000 jobs will be located around each of the five underground stations at Spencer Dock, Pearse Street, St Stephen's Green, Christchurch and Heuston "as a conservative estimate".

This is because businesses will be encouraged to cluster together to make best use of the line.

The unpublished Iarnrod Eireann report, obtained by the Irish Independent, also predicts that the DART underground linking rail services between Heuston and Connolly stations will have a major beneficial impact on traffic congestion and will cut pollution from emissions.

The system was to be built by 2015 but has been delayed until 2018 because of a longer than expected planning and design process.

The Government also has to give the final green light to the project.

Treacy Hogan Environment Correspondent
Irish Independent

Builder fury at 'wasteful' planning objections

A WAR of words has broken out between road bosses and the construction industry over claims that the National Roads Authority (NRA) was wasting taxpayers' money by objecting to new developments.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) yesterday said the fact the NRA had a full-time planning officer charged with lodging objections was "extremely wasteful and costly" and should be stopped.

The comments were made in a pre-Budget submission where the CIF said it was "absurd" that the NRA had a unit engaged in "fighting" with local authorities at a time when the construction industry had collapsed and jobs were needed.

"Particularly during a period of one of the worst economic downturns in history, it is absolutely absurd that one arm of the State at national level should have a unit within it engaged full-time in-fighting with other local arms of the State throughout the country," the CIF submission said.

But the NRA hit back, saying that the construction industry was responsible for wasting taxpayers' money during the boom.

"If one industry knows the consequences of inappropriate developments and irrational thinking when it comes to protecting public investment in infrastructure it's construction," a spokesman said.


"If they want to continue with this, more money will be wasted. It's important that the NRA protects public investment. We should not repeat past sins."

The NRA has an official policy to control development near national roads so that safety is not compromised by large volumes of cars entering the network at inappropriate locations.

Last June planning permission for a supermarket at Ardee in Co Louth was refused permission because it was close to the N33 which was described as a "key link road" between the M1, N2 and N52.

"The appeal site is close to this road and so there is a serious concern that traffic movements generated by the proposed development would lead to the overloading of the same, thereby compromising the performance of the strategically important national road network," the NRA said.

A 30-unit housing development was also refused permission in Donegal town after the NRA said it would join a national road where the maximum speed limit applied.

Last July, An Bord Pleanala refused permission to Kilsaran Concrete to build a showroom at Screggan in Co Offaly following objections from the NRA.

The CIF said a working group made up of senior executives in city and county councils, the NRA and the Department of the Environment should be established so potential problems could be addressed before a formal planning application was lodged.

This would save time and costs and avoid unnecessary delays to projects, it said.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Government signals end of line for Metro North

THE Government has signalled that the Metro North light rail system to Dublin Airport may be scrapped -- despite being given the green-light by planners yesterday.

In a clear indication that the €2.5bn project was under threat, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan said the money might not be available to build the line.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen also refused to say if the project -- which would create up to 4,000 jobs -- would go ahead.

An Bord Pleanala yesterday granted planning permission for the 15km light-rail project which will link St Stephen's Green with Swords.

The Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) has already spent €130m and plans to spend another €85m next year on pre-construction works. But it cannot go ahead until the Government signs off on the project.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey yesterday said a formal decision would be made at the end of next year.

Mr Cowen also refused to commit to the project.

"Obviously discussions on the capital programmes are still ongoing and, so, you know, I can't speak for the Government until the Government make decisions on these matters," he said in Brussels.

Ms Coughlan was also pointedly vague. "This is only a board decision. The issue of whether there will be the financial wherewithal to provide Metro North is still a matter of consideration by the Government," she said.

The comments appear to flag a major U-turn as they come just three months after Mr Cowen insisted the project would go ahead.

At a high-profile launch of the Government's capital spending programme in July, he said the money was available and it would proceed.

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce last night warned if the project was scrapped or delayed it would cause serious "reputational" damage for the State, particularly when other major infrastructure projects were planned in the coming years.


"There is a reputational damage if major capital projects like Metro North are delayed or don't go ahead," a spokesman said. "It's not to be under-estimated. People have spent €5m-€10m apiece getting their tenders ready.

"If the project doesn't go ahead at all, from an international point of view there will be a problem for Ireland in attracting overseas expertise to build large projects."

Metro North will be capable of carrying 20,000 passengers an hour with 10km of the system underground.

The journey time from Dublin Airport to the city centre is estimated to be around 20 minutes.

An Bord Pleanala yesterday gave permission for a scaled-down version of the line, cutting three stops, a park-and-ride facility and rail depot from the project.

The line has been reduced from 18km to 15.7km.

In a decision contained in a 1,700 page report, the board approved the scheme from the Estuary stop north of Swords to St Stephen's Green.

It includes an underground link from the city centre to Ballymun where it will cross the M50 on a flyover bridge.

But the depot, stop and park- and-ride facility at Belinstown have been refused permission along with stops at Lissenhall and Seatown.

An Bord Pleanala said as the depot was at the end of the line, it was "more likely to result in inefficient empty running of metro vehicles and extended travel for staff".

An alternative site for the depot at Dardistown, south of Dublin Airport, should be considered, it said.

Building will proceed once the Government approves a cost-benefit analysis of the project. This is not expected before the end of next year, and after the two groups bidding to build the line submit their best and final offers.

The RPA welcomed the decision, saying it provided "sufficient clarity" for the project to proceed.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Councils to blame for our ghost estates -- top planner

THE country's most senior planner has blamed the scourge of ghost estates on "dubious practices" by local authorities, who were only interested in securing the maximum amount of development in their area.

Chairman of An Bord Pleanala John O'Connor said yesterday that his warnings against large scale developments being located in inappropriate areas were largely ignored, and that a lack of planning guidelines contributed to the problem.

The thousands of ghost estates, excess supply of housing and urban sprawl could not be blamed on the planning system, he said, but by planners who often ignored the public good.

Private interests "held too much sway" and it was "sad" that legislation had to be enacted to ensure good planning.

"In the past we had land zonings taking place without any possibility of services being put in place.

"In planning, the public good must be given greater priority over private interests. In the past, private interests held too much sway," he said.

Mr O'Connor also defended the role of the planning appeals board in not stopping the rampant over-development that took place over the past decade.


Just 9pc of all developments went to the board on appeal, and they often had to be passed because they fitted in with local development plans, he said.

"I'm sure the board bears some responsibility and would have granted some permissions. But only 9pc of local authority planning decisions come to the board on appeal.

"The bord has rejected many out-of-scale developments, and I criticised this five years ago."

The board's annual report shows that Donegal topped the list of counties for bad planning, where nearly 60pc of appealed decisions were overturned by the board.

It is closely followed by Roscommon (53pc) and Longford (48pc) which are among the worst counties for overzoning land and building hundreds of housing units which are now empty.

The agency's report also says: l The number of cases being appealed has fallen by 33pc, down to 3,786 cases. l More than 70pc of cases are being decided within the 18- week period set down in law. l 44 projects including railway lines, wind farms and health facilities are going through a fast-track planning process. l An average of one in three local authorities' planning decisions are reversed by the board.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Council in parking row with O'Gara

DUBLIN CITY Council is paying a private security firm €1,600- €1,700 a week to deter Athlone businessman Noel O’Gara from seeking parking fees from customers of a council-operated car park.

Mr O’Gara achieved notoriety four years ago when he claimed ownership of Dartmouth Square in Ranelagh, Dublin, from where he attempted to operate a tile showroom and car park. The square has since returned to public use.

He now claims he owns the car park on Terenure Road North close to a Health Service Executive (HSE) health centre. The HSE, which says it owns the site, is leasing it to the council for use as a car park. The council has been operating the car park since 1974.

Last month, Mr O’Gara put up signs and covered the pay and display ticket machines, telling locals he was the owner. He charged drivers €1 to park for three hours.

The HSE said it had “at all times” been owner and this has been “clearly communicated to Mr O’Gara through HSE’s solicitors”. However it would not say yesterday if it was taking legal action.

The council said it had obtained legal advice that it would not be granted an injunction to prohibit Mr O’Gara from being at the car park because it had the remedy of pursuing him in the courts.

The council said it may institute proceedings for damages to recover the sums taken by Mr O’Gara for parking, but it would take 18 months to two years before these proceedings would be heard.

Council law agent Terence O’Keeffe said the council was attempting to deal with Mr O’Gara’s presence in a “more practical manner” to “assert our authority on the ground”.

Security varied “dependent on the activities of Mr O’Gara”, the council said, but the cost to the council was approximately €1,600- €1,700 a week.

Mr O’Gara said he bought the title to the site 10 years ago from the estate of Sir Robert Shaw and was entitled to any royalties, including parking charges. The situation is similar to Mr O’Gara’s claim on Dartmouth Square.

Mr O’Gara said he bought the park in 2005 for about €10,000 from PJ Darley, whose ancestors built the square in the 1880s.

The council secured a compulsory purchase order from An Bord Pleanála in 2006, but has yet to reach terms with Mr O’Gara on costs for transfer of ownership.

Irish Times

“Unauthorised” car parks in Dublin

A RECENT ruling by An Bord Pleanála shows how Dublin City Council can lose the run of itself when it comes to managing car parking in the city. Earlier this year the council moved to close a two-storey car park at the rear of O’Connell Street on the grounds that it “facilitates long term commuter car parking”. Never mind that many commuters – myself included – who drive to work in the city have no suitable alternative.

The car park in question, off Moore Lane, was built specifically to facilitate local government officials, but once the former Fingal County Council’s offices were sold to developers Chartered Land the council argued that there was no planning permission for it to be used by the general public. The council’s decision to issue an enforcement notice against what it claimed was an “unauthorised car park” was all the more surprising because as part of the proposed €900-million Dublin Central rejuvenation project already approved for the same Carlton site, Chartered Land has been given permission to replace the 100-space car park with one seven times bigger.

Not surprisingly, traders in Henry Street and Moore Street warned that the closure of the car park would affect their businesses at a time when they were struggling to pay high rents and even more excessive rates to the council.

An inspector from An Bord Pleanála refused to accept that the “unauthorised” car park was “critical” to the retail core of the city centre and recommended that planning permission should be refused on the grounds that it would set an “undesirable precedent”.

Luckily, wiser counsels prevailed and the planning appeals board ruled that the car park should remain open to “support the existing retail uses in the vicinity”.

Curiously there was no mention in the long and detailed report from An Bord Pleanála that the car park in question is in direct competition with the adjoining 1,000-space Ilac car park which just happens to be owned by . . . yes, you guessed it, Dublin City Council. Surely the council wouldn’t try and put a rival car park out of business to protect the €6.4 million income it gets from the Ilac park and two others in Dawson Street and Drury Street? Or the on-street parking which brought in revenues of €26.8 million in 2009? The city council’s officials are experts at maximising income from the 33,000 pay-and- display spaces along the city streets.

But because it has control of car parking in the city there is good reason to monitor how the council sets its charges and deals with its competitors.

This year alone it has issued seven enforcement notices against “unauthorised” car parks. Some of these are located on development sites which are unlikely to be used for many years. What is wrong with granting permission for some of them to be used as temporary parks for a period of, say, three years to facilitate commuters working in the city? Unlike city council officials, these workers do not have the luxury of a free car park such as the one at the council’s city centre offices.

There’s a lot more to this car parking issue than meets the eye.

Irish Times

Council objects to incinerator plan

Cork County Council is to write to An Bord Pleanála to reiterate its opposition to a proposed €150 million twin incinerator project in Cork Harbour following the submission of a revised proposal by developer, Indaver Ireland, writes Barry Roche.

Councillors backed a proposal made by Labour councilllor Paula Desmond and seconded by Fianna Fáil councillor Seamus McGrath that the council write to the board stating that they did not believe the revised proposal addressed their concerns.

Twelve councillors spoke with 10 supporting a proposal to write to the board with only Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe supporting the incineration proposal and Fine Gael councillor Michael Hegarty urging caution on jeopardising jobs in the pharmaceutical sector. Cork County manager Martin Riordan’s advice not to write to the board was rejected. The revised proposal is being considered under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

Irish Times

Planning board grants permission for Metro North

AN BORD Pleanála has granted permission for the Metro North, but has cut three stops and 2.3 km of track from the line sought two years ago by the Railway Procurement Agency.

The cuts will mean a new railway order, the planning application for rail infrastructure, will have to be submitted for aspects of the project. An Bord Pleanála said it was too early to say whether a new oral hearing would be required.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey yesterday said the metro was a “priority public transport project for this Government”, but would be subject to a cost-benefit analysis before the Government signed off on the project.

Doubts have been cast on the project’s viability in the current economic circumstances. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore recently said the project would be “shot back” if Labour was in power.

The line was to have been 18km long, running from St Stephen’s Green to Bellinstown in north county Dublin. However, the railway order granted by the planning board yesterday eliminates the final two stops, Lissenhall and Bellinstown, as well as Seatown, the stop closest to Swords town centre.

A new railway order is necessary because Bellinstown was to have been the location for a depot for the metro and for a landfill to take the spoil material from the construction.

The board said the 36-hectare depot site at Bellinstown, which would house stock and other ancillary services for the line, was too far from Dublin airport or Swords for efficient operations of the service. It also noted the site was prone to flooding and while engineering solutions could minimise the flood risk, this might push floods into neighbouring communities.

The land to be used to bury the spoil from construction was “good quality agricultural land” and the proposed “extensive landfilling” was not justified, the board said.

The board has directed the railway agency to submit a new application for a relocated depot at Dardistown immediately south of Dublin airport at a point where Metro North and the proposed Metro West would intersect. The application must also deal with a management plan for the construction spoil. With the exception of enabling works such as moving underground utilities, the board said construction could not begin until the new railway order was approved. The board could not say how long it would take to made a decision on the new railway order.

The railway agency yesterday said it had already developed proposals for a depot at Dardistown and would apply for permission for the depot in the near future.

Lissenhall and Bellinstown had been earmarked as new centres of residential development before the property crash. While there has been some apartment development, particularly at Lissenhall, stops at these locations were eliminated by the board because they would “promote a pattern of development and an unsustainable use of land unlikely to be supported by future travel demand in the short to medium term”.

The Seatown stop was rejected because there were sufficient stops for the Swords area and it was not justified by current or foreseeable growth in population.

Notwithstanding objections to the construction of the metro in the city centre, most notably from businessman Colm Carroll, who owns nine city-centre gift shops and runs the “No to Metro North” campaign, it said the scheme’s benefits would outweigh the short-term impact of construction.

It said the metro would not adversely affect any protected structure or national monument. However, it conceded the construction phase would have “serious impacts” on the Dublin region, particularly adjacent to the city centre, Ballymun and Swords stops.

Irish Times

Glut of housing is laid at door of local authorities

DUBIOUS DECISIONS made by local authorities are to blame for the glut of so-called “ghost estates” particularly in rural counties, An Bord Pleanála chairman John O’Connor has said.

Many of the State’s 88 local authorities thought only of themselves when planning and zoning instead of having regard to regional and national development. Where the board had approved developments which were now ghost estates it was merely following zoning decisions, he said.

Mr O’Connor was speaking following the publication of the board’s 2009 annual report which showed that counties with the highest rates of decisions overturned by the board were the same counties which were recently revealed to have the biggest problems with ghost estates.

Donegal had the worst planning record with almost 60 per cent of appealed decisions overturned by the board, followed by Roscommon at just over 53 per cent. The National Housing Development Survey, published last week, found that Donegal had 133 ghost estates while Roscommon had 118. These were particularly large numbers given the low population densities of these counties.

Mr O’Connor said he had warned local authorities four or five years ago about inappropriate large-scale housing developments on the edges of towns and villages, and the impact such developments were having on those settlements.

“Unfortunately, I think in the past private interest had too much sway over the public good.”

Local authorities had all been “planning for themselves”, he said, without regard to zoning or developments in neighbouring county council areas.

“The tendency for each local authority [was] to look within its own area as to what was the maximum development that could be secured there, without looking at what was happened in the neighbouring authorities or to other authorities in the region, so when you added it all up you got these inflated figures.”

The board could not have stopped the development of ghost estates, he said, because only 9 per cent of local planning decisions were appealed to the board. Where the board did approve developments which are now ghost estates, it was because the land had been zoned for housing by the local authorities.

“I’m sure the board bears some responsibility and probably would have granted some cases . . . but in all cases this land would have been zoned and serviced. The board’s role in the whole planning process is that if land is zoned and serviced normally there is a presumption that development will be granted.

“The issue of ghost estates, a lot of these you will appreciate from the recent analysis were down to dubious local decision making.”

However, Mr O’Connor said the current “very deep lull” in construction activity could not last.

“The present level of activity in the development construction sectors is not sustainable if the country was to have any future in the long run.”

A review of the system of development levies set by local authorities would help maintain some level of construction activity and employment, he said. In some counties levies were excessively high and represented a disincentive to development. There was an argument that no levies should be imposed where a “brownfield” site, which was already serviced was being developed. He called for central Government guidance in relation to the setting of appropriate levies.

While bad local planning could be pointed to as the main culprit in the creation of ghost estates, the planning system was not responsible for the overall excesses of the boom years and could not be relied on to prevent another boom-bust cycle. “This is a matter for macro-economic fiscal and financial policies,” he said.


1 Donegal 59.5%

2 Roscommon 53.3%

3 Longford 48%

4 Galway (excluding city) 46.8%

5 Waterford (excluding city) 44.3%

6 Westmeath 42.3%

7 Leitrim 41.4%

8 South Tipperary 39.7%

9 Wexford 38.8%

10 Cavan 38.6%

Irish Times

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Rail agency applies for order to proceed with Metro West

THE RAILWAY Procurement Agency (RPA) has announced its intention to proceed with Metro West by applying to An Bord Pleanála for a railway order for the orbital light rail line, which would connect Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown.

The Luas-type project would link up with Metro North at Dardistown, south of Dublin airport.

According to the agency, it would “deliver substantial benefits to communities in west Dublin, providing a quality public transport system [and] employment opportunities”.

As with Metro North, no costings have been given for the project, nor has the agency provided any estimate of likely patronage on the line, which would connect areas not linked even by a bus service. Neither has any cost-benefit analysis been published.

No provision was made for Metro West in the Government’s revised €13 million capital spending plan to 2016, unveiled last July. But Metro North, which would link Swords with St Stephen’s Green, and the Dart underground from Heuston to Docklands are part of it.

The RPA said the Metro West light rail would begin at a new terminus in the median of Belgard Road, adjacent to the Institute of Technology Tallaght, and run on the same track bed as the existing Tallaght Luas line before branching off to Clondalkin.

It would serve Liffey Valley shopping centre and cross the river on a new bridge, continuing onwards to Porterstown and Blanchardstown, past the National Aquatic Centre, and looping around through Cappoge before ending at Dardistown.

The agency described Metro West as a key element of Transport 21, the Government’s investment framework published in November 2005, and said its railway order application “represents a significant milestone in the delivery of the project”.

From October 29th, the environmental impact statement will be on display at the offices of South Dublin and Fingal county councils, the RPA and An Bord Pleanála, and on

Irish Times

Shell to fund Mayo water well

SHELL E&P Ireland is to fund drilling of a new production well, but for water, not gas, and in the north Mayo village of Rossport.

The multinational says it is giving €750,000 towards upgrading the village’s water network as a “gesture of goodwill to the Rossport community, which has experienced particular difficulties as a result of the Corrib gas project”.

The money will pay for a new water well, replacement of the distribution network with new piping, reservoir, three-phase electricity and installation of consumer and district metering, the company said yesterday. Rossport group water scheme co-op chairman Tony Corduff said the co-op approached Shell for funding after it was refused by Mayo County Council. An offer by the company to upgrade the 35-year-old scheme was accepted by a majority of the community at a meeting on April 29th, he said.

However, Rossport resident and Pobal Chill Chomáin community group chairman Vincent McGrath, who was jailed in 2005 over opposition to the gas project, has questioned the need for refurbishment.

“We have a perfectly good . . . water scheme, and we had no indication that there were any problems with it,” he said. “If funding was required and Mayo County Council refused, we need to know full details.”

Acknowledging it would be “difficult for many residents to be seen to oppose a goodwill gesture”, Mr McGrath said that such funding would be “divisive” and was “not going to win consent for the project, when the community’s health and safety remains our primary concern”.

Local objections filed with An Bord Pleanála over a new pipeline route – including one submission representing 300 residents on both sides of the route through Sruwaddacon estuary – illustrated that more residents than ever were concerned about the project’s methodology and impact, Mr McGrath said.

“We are delighted to be able to support such a worthwhile and widely beneficial project in the Rossport community,” Shell EP Ireland Mayo area manager Mark Carrigy said yesterday.

The group water scheme was constructed in 1975 and serves 153 people in Rossport, Shell EP said. “While it has served the community well . . . in recent years leakages have become more commonplace due to the general condition of the group water scheme infrastructure”, it added.

The council was unavailable for comment.

Irish Times

An Taisce urges council to 'dezone' Dunleer land

AN TAISCE has called on Louth County Council to “dezone” large areas of land outside the village of Dunleer designated for residential or commercial development in a 2003 plan.

Quoting from the recent “A Haunted Landscape” report by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth, An Taisce endorsed its finding that local plans had been “driven by the demands of local people, developers and speculators”.

The submission compiled by Gerry Crilly, a Dunleer-based member of the conservation body’s national council, described the mid-Louth village as “a microcosm of the national crisis that Ireland now finds itself in” following the property crash.

According to the county council, Dunleer’s 29 hectares (74 acres) of undeveloped residential and commercial zoned lands “greatly exceeds” what is required. If all of it was developed, it would more than double the population to at least 4,000.

The current population is estimated at between 1,600 and 1,800, and An Taisce said future population growth “may not occur within the next six years due to the rise in emigration, increasing unemployment and no net immigration into Ireland”.

It pointed to a large area of land zoned commercial at Woodlands, southwest of Dunleer, saying it was distant from the village centre and had already been the subject of three refusals for large-scale commercial developments.

Its submission said that all zoned land outside the the “natural boundaries” of Dunleer, which it identified as the M1 motorway to the west and the railway line to the east, should now be dezoned in order to promote more sustainable development.

It also noted that An Taisce had successfully appealed three decisions by the council to grant planning permission for proposed developments adjacent to the disused railway station on the basis that these schemes would “prejudice” its reopening.

Upholding these appeals, An Bord Pleanála said it was “not satisfied that the development of the site, in the manner that has been proposed, would allow for the station to be reopened or for the land, to be developed in a comprehensive manner”.

Although the Louth County Development Plan adopted in 2003 had a policy “to seek the reopening of Dunleer railway station”, An Taisce complained that this was not explicit in the latest plan and said it should be stated in “clear and unambiguous” terms.

It is also seeking a “clear policy” by the council not to zone “low-lying lands” in the floodplain of White River as part of a “proactive flood prevention policy”. Instead, it wants to see these lands designated as an “amenity buffer zone” for the village.

Calling for a strategic environmental assessment of the draft local plan, An Taisce said all previous development zonings along the river should be reconsidered due to “future vulnerability to increased flood risk”, particularly during the winter.

It also wants to see a “regional heritage park” developed in Dunleer, centred on a surviving Norman motte south of the village.

Irish Times

Michael Collins's old national school saved from demolition

THE NATIONAL school in Lisavaird, Co Cork, attended by Michael Collins has been saved from demolition as a result of an appeal by An Taisce against plans to replace it with a petrol station and three houses.

An Bord Pleanála, ruling on the appeal against a decision by Cork County Council to approve the scheme, said it considered that the school building was “of special historical interest and significance”.

It said: “The demolition of the remaining structure of Lisavaird national school where Michael Collins, a principal figure in the Irish War of Independence, attended school . . . has not been justified.”

Furthermore, the appeals board ruled that the proposed demolition would be contrary to a policy of the Cork county plan, which recognises the importance to heritage sites not included in the Record of Protected Structures.

Welcoming the ruling, An Taisce’s Ian Lumley said: “As the centenary of the 1916 Rising to 1922-1923 Civil War approaches, there will be a significantly increased focus on the locations associated with major events and figures of this period.”

He also welcomed another decision by An Bord Pleanála to overrule Louth County Council’s approval for plans to demolish the 19th-century Drummullagh House in Omeath, to make way for a 122-bedroom hotel with function rooms.

The board ruled that the proposed development, overlooking Carlingford Lough, would form “an obtrusive and visually discordant feature” within an area of high scenic amenity, “highly visible in views from within Co Louth and from Co Down”.

Mr Lumley said An Taisce considered the board’s decision “particularly significant because it refers to the impact of the proposed Co Louth development across Carlingford Lough to views within Co Down – ie, ‘transboundary impacts in another jurisdiction.”

He also noted that the Irish Hotels Federation had published a report suggesting there was now an oversupply of 15,000 hotel bedrooms nationally, “so the refusal of the Omeath proposal does not represent a current employment loss”.

Irish Times

Monday, 18 October 2010

Council pursues builder over levies

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is pursuing businessmen Paddy Shovlin and hoteliers Patrick Fitzpatrick and Anthony Fitzpatrick for €12.8 million in alleged outstanding planning contributions related to the Beacon South Quarter development in Sandyford, Dublin.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly ruled today the council, in the manner of bringing its claim, had failed to show it had acted with the urgency required for the proceedings to be fast-tracked in the Commercial Court.

On that basis, he refused to transfer the case to the Commercial Court list, meaning it will have to proceed at a slower pace through the ordinary High Court list.

In seeking transfer, Aidan Redmond SC, for the council, said the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) had secured judgment over unpaid bank loans related to the Beacon development against the three defendants last week and it was against that background the matter was urgent.

Mr Shovlin previously acknowledged a liability before later disputing any personal liability by the defendants, he added.

Caroline Costello for the defendants, said the Council’s letter of demand was issued 11 months ago, the sum sought was later reduced and the managerial order giving the go-ahead for proceedings was issued just last June. The Council had failed to show the required urgency, she said.

The proceedings are against Mr Shovlin, Kerrymount Avenue, Foxrock, Co Dublin; Patrick Fitzpatrick, Dargle Lodge,

Cookstown Road, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow and Anthony Fitzpatrick, Treethorpe, Brennanstown Road, Cabinteely, Co Dublin.

The Council claims the three defendants traded as “Landmark Developments” which was engaged in the Beacon South Quarter development. In granting permissions for that development, the Council imposed conditions requiring the payment of contributions for public infrastructure and other facilities, including towards the cost of extending the Luas Line from Sandyford to Cherrywood.

The Beacon South Quarter development commenced in December 2004 and it was agreed, subject to various conditions, the defendants would pay the financial contributions via instalments to be paid upon the closing of sale of every 100 residential units and of every commercial unit, the Council claimed.

The defendants paid contributions totalling some €7.88 million between 2006 and 2009 but outstanding contributions amounted to some €12.5 million, it was alleged.

The court heard Mr Shovlin, in an affidavit sworn for a defence and counter-claim to proceedings by the Council in July before the Master of the High Court, had argued the development at Beacon South Quarter was carried out by Landmark Enterprises Ltd and, while the defendants were the owners of the lands, they were not the developer.

Mr Shovlin claimed Landmark was required by the Council to carry out very considerable works which were not conditions of the permissions granted and which resulted in a loss to the defendants. He claimed entitlement to set-off in that regard and also said Landmark could not complete the instalments due to the global financial crisis and the collapse in the Irish property market.

Development effectively ceased in April 2008, he said.

While he accepted no financial contributions were made since August 2009, it was apparent the council itself had had difficulty calculating exactly what was owed, Mr Shovlin said.

While he accepted he had sent an email in April last agreeing the total due for financial contributions was about €12.8 million, he said this was an approximate figure which had not been finalised and, for example, calculation related to car parking facilities was not agreed.

It was also important to note he accepted no liability for that sum either for himself or the other defendants, Mr Shovlin said. The borrowings were by Landmark, not the defendants, he said.

Last week, in the first court application of its type, Nama secured summary judgment for some €38.5 million against Mr Shovlin and for some €22 million each against the Fitzpatrick’s over unpaid loans to their companies by Bank of Ireland, including a €280 million loan to Landmark Enterprises for the Beacon South Quarter development.

On the same day, Ulster Bank secured a €6.4 million summary judgment order against Mr Shovlin and €3.27 million summary judgment against both Fitzpatricks.

Irish Times

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Builders who have a 10-year plan

GIVEN that most builders have laid down their shovels for the foreseeable future, you might imagine that the most challenging assignment local authority planners get these days is to reorganise the filing system, or get to grips with the finer points of sodoku.

Not so. While very few builders have any serious intention of getting back on site any time soon, there are still planning applications going through the system.

How many of them will ever be built is another question.

Some of the developments will undoubtedly see the light of day but it appears some builders are going through motions by submitting planning applications to realise the value of their sites while others are going for 10-year planning permissions in the hope the economy picks up before then.

This week alone there’s a 10-year planning application to Dublin City Council for an ambitious regeneration project in the Charlemont Street area in Dublin 2.

The planning application is for 260 residential units to rehouse the existing community and a new public street from Charlemont Street to Richmond Street South.

There are also plans for an office element with shops, restaurants and a multiplex cinema and a community sports centre .

On Monastery Road in Clondalkin at the Siac HQ, there’s a proposal for 380 residential units and shops which is currently on appeal with An Bord Pleanála.

The sisters of St Louis are looking to build 86 apartments on their grounds in their high school in Rathmines, six of which will be reserved for their own use and in Swords, MKN is seeking permission for another phase of the Ridgewood residential development.

Irish Times

Permission for €12m windfarm revoked

AN BORD Pleanála yesterday refused planning permission for a €12 million windfarm due to fears it could result in a peat landslide.

The proposed 375ft, eight-turbine windfarm in the Slieve Aughty mountain range in northeast Clare lies 17km south of a windfarm at Derrybrien, Co Galway, which was the scene of a landslide in 2003 that dislodged 450,000 cubic metres of material and which killed 50,000 fish.

Earlier this year, Clare County Council granted planning permission to SWS Energy Ltd at Maghera in the Slieve Aughties for the proposal, in spite of widespread local opposition.

In a submission to An Bord Pleanála, the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board objected to the plan as “it is not possible for the developer to guarantee that a landslide will not occur arising from the construction and operation of the windfarm that would be environmentally catastrophic”.

The fisheries board stated that “three major bogslides have occurred in recent years that have devastated fish stocks and caused significant long-term damage to the aquatic habitat”.

It pointed out: “In all cases, experts had been employed, which suggests that it is not possible to mitigate the risks associated with such works .” An Taisce also raised concerns with An Bord Pleanála that disturbed peat could pollute watercourses and threaten aquatic species.

Appealing the council decision, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) stated: “If the proper stress tests specific to peat soils are not conducted prior to the above proposed development, its construction could lead to a bog burst, leaving Ireland again liable to prosecution under the Environmental Liability Directive.”

Refusing permission, An Bord Pleanála stated it was not satisfied the development “would not prejudice the stability of the peatland on the site of the proposed windfarm or adversely affect the hydrology of the bog in the adjacent Glendree Bog candidate Special Area of Conservation”.

Irish Times

Permission for €12m windfarm revoked

AN BORD Pleanála yesterday refused planning permission for a €12 million windfarm due to fears it could result in a peat landslide.

The proposed 375ft, eight-turbine windfarm in the Slieve Aughty mountain range in northeast Clare lies 17km south of a windfarm at Derrybrien, Co Galway, which was the scene of a landslide in 2003 that dislodged 450,000 cubic metres of material and which killed 50,000 fish.

Earlier this year, Clare County Council granted planning permission to SWS Energy Ltd at Maghera in the Slieve Aughties for the proposal, in spite of widespread local opposition.

In a submission to An Bord Pleanála, the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board objected to the plan as “it is not possible for the developer to guarantee that a landslide will not occur arising from the construction and operation of the windfarm that would be environmentally catastrophic”.

The fisheries board stated that “three major bogslides have occurred in recent years that have devastated fish stocks and caused significant long-term damage to the aquatic habitat”.

It pointed out: “In all cases, experts had been employed, which suggests that it is not possible to mitigate the risks associated with such works .” An Taisce also raised concerns with An Bord Pleanála that disturbed peat could pollute watercourses and threaten aquatic species.

Appealing the council decision, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) stated: “If the proper stress tests specific to peat soils are not conducted prior to the above proposed development, its construction could lead to a bog burst, leaving Ireland again liable to prosecution under the Environmental Liability Directive.”

Refusing permission, An Bord Pleanála stated it was not satisfied the development “would not prejudice the stability of the peatland on the site of the proposed windfarm or adversely affect the hydrology of the bog in the adjacent Glendree Bog candidate Special Area of Conservation”.

Irish Times

Moore St houses 'the Irish Alamo'

“THE IRISH Alamo” is how the Moore Street houses where 1916 rebels spent their final hours before surrender are being described by those campaigning to preserve the site.

Matt Doyle, secretary of the National Graves Association, made the comments before a public meeting of the ‘Save 16 Moore Street’ campaign last night.

Due to their historic significance, the houses at 14 to 17 Moore Street were designated national monuments by then environment minister Dick Roche in 2007. Number 16 Moore Street is said to be where Irish rebel leaders made the decision to surrender to British forces after the 1916 Rising.

However in March this year, An Bord Pleanála approved planning permission for a major redevelopment of the 2.7-hectare Carlton Cinema site on Upper O’Connell Street. Developer Joe O’Reilly was granted permission for an 800,000sq ft development to include retail and residential units, restaurants and car spaces.

While the facade would be preserved, campaigners say the work will infringe on an area of national interest. James Connolly Heron, a great-grandson of James Connolly and a member of the ‘Save 16 Moore Street’ committee, said: “We’re calling for the terrace to be taken out of the development plan altogether and for the creation of a holistic cultural quarter.”

Mr Doyle said: “We welcome regeneration of the area but we’re concerned the development will be an infringement on the national monument site. Next year is the 95th anniversary of the Rising and politicians will be banging their chests. They’re not interested until it comes to an anniversary. . .

“This site is the Irish Alamo, there should be a national monument to it.”

The campaigners have also expressed concern that Mr O’Reilly is one of the first 10 developers going into Nama.

A statement issued by Minister John Gormley’s office yesterday reiterated the national monument status of the Moore Street houses.

Irish Times

Unwanted county plans in Irish cost €300,000

LOCAL AUTHORITIES have spent almost €300,000 translating their current county development plans into Irish even though there is virtually no demand for them.

A Sunday Tribune survey of all 29 county councils found that most have not received any requests for copies of the Irish language version of their development plans.

Of the 11 county councils that responded to the survey asking how many hard copies of the Irish language version of their local authority's current county development plan have been requested by members of the public, only one local authority confirmed that they had any such requests.

Waterford County Council said that "approximately nine hard copies of the Irish version were made available to members of the public". It pointed out the Irish version is also available on the council's website and that between January and mid-August there were 11 online searches for the Irish version. However, only six were actually downloaded. Waterford is one of the few counties with a designated Gaeltacht.

Under the Official Languages Act 2003, it is compulsory that certain government documents must be published in both Irish and English. County development plans fall into this category. It has been reported that it costs local authorities more than €10,000 to translate the development plans.

While many local authorities did not respond to the survey, a number of county councils such as Carlow, Cavan, Laois, Westmeath and Wicklow confirmed that no one requested the Irish language version of their plans.

A spokesman for Limerick County Council said: "Our existing development plan was published before the requirement to have it translated was introduced. We have currently a new draft county development plan on display and no copies of the Irish language version have been requested."

These plans are the blueprint for the planning and development of local authority areas. Each plan sets out the overall planning policies of the council for a six-year period. It consists of a lengthy written statement and a series of maps.

Sunday Tribune

Children's hospital could be delayed by planning row

A forthcoming An Bord Pleanála examination of plans to build the €650m new national children's hospital at Dublin's Mater complex will have to consider what alternatives to the chosen site are out there, according to developer Noel Smyth.

As the row over the resignation of head of the national children's hospital board, Philip Lynch, intensified yesterday, Smyth revealed that he has not been contacted by health minister Mary Harney or any representatives of the project to discuss his plans for an alternative site since Lynch's departure.

However, he vowed to keep going with his proposals to build the hospital on a site close to the Naas Road, which he claims could be built on a "not for profit" basis and for €150m less than was planned.

"The position is that the minister is treating this as a government decision having been taken, meaning the hospital is going on the Mater site," he told the Sunday Tribune. "The fact that the matter is gone to An Bord Pleanála means there is an obligation to consider and assess what alternatives are out there. I don't think it will speed up the issue at all."

"When they cut the ribbon to the entrance of the new Mater, then I'll start thinking of withdrawing my offer... If others are out there and they have got better ideas, we would be more than happy to row in behind them."

In a statement issued on Friday night, Lynch maintained that "my decision to resign was my own," and warned of serious funding gaps and planning and design challenges at the controversial Mater Hospital site.

But speaking on RTE's Marian Finucane show yesterday, Harney reiterated that she had sought Lynch's resignation having lost confidence in his capacity "to chair the board at this point to take this matter forward."

She said he had gone out "reviewing green field sites" which clearly "wasn't appropriate."

"(Mr Lynch) did fantastic work and I want to pay tribute to him. But it came to a stage where obviously Mr Lynch had gone outside the mandate of the board," she added.

Harney said she had met with Noel Smyth previously, but added that it was "very important" to have a hospital which is owned by the State.

"The mandate of this board was to build a hospital at this site," she said. "The train has left the station.""

But broadcaster Gay Byrne, a member of the board of the children's medical and research foundation at Crumlin hospital, also told the programme that Lynch "rather significantly to my mind... resigned or was fired" a very short time after meeting with members of that board.

Among the concerns about the Mater site was that 1,000 underground parking spaces would be taken up by 1,500 staff at the hospital, he said. Another "awful allegation" which he said was "going around" is that international experts consulted on the hospital plans did so over the phone and never visited the Mater site, he said.

Under the current proposals for the Mater site, €110m of the €650m cost will need to come from fundraising and philanthropy which has yet to be secured. Information and communication technology in the new hospital could cost an additional €100m or more.

An amendment to the planning and development acts enacted last July, healthcare projects of strategic and national importance – such as the hospital – means they can be submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála rather than first being submitted to a local authority.

Sunday Tribune

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Earthwork 'could have been part of Unesco heritage site'

A PREVIOUSLY unrecorded “impressively large earthwork” – believed to be part of the outer defences of an early medieval royal stronghold at Knowth, in the Boyne Valley – has been identified by an archaeological survey.

The survey, commissioned by former attorney general John Rogers SC, has been submitted to An Bord Pleanála as additional information as part of its consideration of plans for an N2 bypass running east of Slane, Co Meath.

Carried out by archaeologists Joe Fenwick, Gerard Dowling and Roseanne Schot of the Brú na Bóinne Research Project, the survey found the earthwork at Crewbane, near the home of Mr Rogers, who is objecting to the bypass.

It was prompted by the discovery in 2007 of a souterrain in Crewbane, at the perimeter of the Brú na Bóinne Unesco world heritage site “buffer zone” 2km east of Slane village and 1km from the prehistoric passage tomb of Knowth.

“This impressively large earthwork is not recorded in the Sites and Monuments record for Co Meath,” the archaeologists say.

It presents a “massive facade” when approached uphill from the south, averaging 4m in height and extends over a distance of 23m.

“It is apparent that the Crewbane souterrain is not an isolated archaeological monument in the landscape, but one element in a complex of archaeological features situated on and around this prominent ridge overlooking the river Boyne.

“These include a second and possibly third potential souterrain, a substantial linear embankment, a circular enclosure [of] 40m in diameter [a possible ring fort], a relict field system and associated open settlement of possible medieval or early modern date . . . ”

They speculate that the complex “might have served as a defensive outpost protecting the western flanks of the royal stronghold at Knowth”, saying it was “unfortunate” that it straddles the western boundary of the Unesco world heritage site buffer zone.

“It is likely, however, that had this complex been known at the time the world heritage site perimeter was being drafted, its influence would have extended its perimeter somewhat further to the west and northwest,” Mr Fenwick has told An Bord Pleanála.

In a letter to the board, he acknowledged that an alternative route of the bypass running west of Slane would also have a large number of “significant impacts” on the archaeological, architectural and cultural heritage of the area, including Slane Castle demesne.

Mr Fenwick suggested that the “only realistic option” was to ban heavy goods vehicles entirely from the village and provide an east-west corridor to the north of Slane, to redirect this traffic towards “the new and underutilised” M1 and M3 motorways. The consultations end on Friday.

Irish Times

Monday, 11 October 2010

Council agrees deal for regeneration of city flats

A DUBLIN INNER city flats complex, parts of which date from 1944, is to be the first housing regeneration scheme built in the city through public-private partnership (PPP) since the wholesale collapse of the system in 2008.

Alcove Properties, owned by developer Seán Reilly, has signed up to a deal with Dublin City Council for the regeneration of the Charlemont Street flats.

The project will involve the demolition of almost 200 flats on a five-acre site on Charlemont Street and Tom Kelly Road, most of which were built in the late 1950s apart from one block, Ffrench-Mullan House, which was built in 1944. The vacant site of the former St Ultan’s flats, demolished in 2001, is also part of the development.

Some 260 apartments will be built, 139 of which will be social housing units, 16 will be offered under the affordable housing scheme and the remaining 105 will be private apartments.

Shops, restaurants, a sports centre and a multiplex cinema will be included in the scheme.

Unlike previous social housing developments, it will have a significant office space element of about 20,000sq m.

The scheme will be constructed in five blocks ranging up to eight storeys in height.

Although Alcove has been selected by the council to undertake the project, it still has to go through the normal planning process and last week submitted its planning application to the council.

Given the size of the scheme and the proposed heights of up to eight storeys, an appeal to An Bord Pleanála is likely if the council does, as expected, grant permission for the development.

The council said that while the planning application was still under consideration, it would not be appropriate to comment on why it was again willing to get involved in a PPP project, given that the collapse of the previous schemes in 2008 was principally attributed to the downturn in the property market, which has yet to recover.

The large quantum of office space and the proximity of the development to the central business district is likely to have made this development more attractive than the other PPPs which would have been more heavily reliant on the housing market.

Local Labour councillor Kevin Humphreys said he understood that the financing was in place for the development.

The scheme would be phased, he said, so the social element would be built first, and it was being structured in such a way that residents could continue to live together as a community during construction.

“I think it’s a very hopeful and encouraging sign that we have something like this developing in the city, and I have to commend the council and the developers on their level of engagement and consultation with the community.”

Alcove Properties said it did not wish to comment on the development and were referring all queries on the scheme to the city council.

Irish Times

Previous plans McNamara deals scrapped

THE REGENERATION of the Charlemont Street/Tom Kelly flats was initially planned before the collapse in 2008 of the five Bernard McNamara PPPs (public-private partnerships) and the Croke Villas PPP.

Mr McNamara had been selected by the council to undertake the regeneration of some of the city’s largest social housing flat complexes at Dominick Street, St Michael’s Estate and O’Devaney Gardens.

The council set up a taskforce which came to the conclusion that trying to establish new PPPs would not work given the state of the property market.

In December 2008, the Croke Villas PPP was also scrapped.

Construction at St Michael’s is due to begin shortly. Planning applications for O’Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála before the end of the year.

Irish Times

Children with crayons would have made better councillors

THE sorry rezoning mess alone is reason enough to turf most of the country's city and county councillors out on their ear come the next election.

Every serving politican who calls looking for a vote should be quizzed in great detail about their zoning decisions because it is these people who have left us with a multi-billion euro mess that will take years to sort out. Toddlers with maps and coloured pencils could have made a better fist of proper planning.

Councillors essentially just declared everywhere suitable for housing. No political party is immune from criticism. They were all at it.

We have 114 local authorities for a country with a population of just 4.2 million. There are 1,627 elected members, many of whom have their eye on national politics and a Dail seat.

What the figures from the Department of the Environment show is that none of them had their eye on the ball when it came to their local area, and they have let their communities down dreadfully.

Zoning is a function of 88 local authorities and their councillors. They make the decisions on where is deemed suitable for housing, and the decision is theirs alone.

But we didn't cause the mess, they'll say. We didn't grant permission for all these houses, many of which are lying empty.

True, they didn't. But through their rezoning madness they allowed the situation to be created where planning was expected.

The figures are staggering. A population increase of more than four million people was needed to make proper use of the landbanks zoned.

That this didn't happen is hardly a surprise -- while high, Ireland's birthrate isn't so impressive that we can churn out the numbers of babies needed to become mortgage-holders in the near future.

Cheap credit fuelled the boom and resulted in high prices being paid for land. There was no joined-up thinking on what was good planning, and every council in the country was keen to cash in on development levies -- worth €700m a year at the height of the boom.

But where was the oversight from central government -- which was footing the bill to install water systems, roads and all other utilities -- to support a housing development?

There wasn't any because senior politicians were loathe to get involved in local matters because of the outcry that would arise from their meddling.

Planning is not an exact science, but there is a range of policy documents which are supposed to set out how an area should be developed on a national, regional, county and local level.

But until the new Planning and Development Act, signed into law this summer, local authorities were only required to "have regard" to these strategies instead of being "consistent with" as is now required.

The figures show that in practice they were essentially ignored. That the Government announced decentralisation to towns not earmarked for growth showed there was no leadership from the top.

But the Environment Minister did have the power to step in and issue a direction for a local authority to de-zone land, although it was rarely used.

Between 2004 and 2008 they intervened in six development plans belonging to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Laois, Monaghan, Castlebar, Mayo and Waterford.

Four of those interventions came from the present minister, John Gormley. One case, that of Mayo, perhaps best illustrates the thought process that has led us to the current mess.

In 2007, councillors proposed zoning six times the amount needed to meet future demand in its county development plan.

The Department of the Environment expressed concerns, including one that instead of clear, robust policies being implemented, there were "non-specific principles".

The county manager said it went against professional advice, and could lead a deterioration in drinking water quality

Notwithstanding the issues raised, the councillors adopted the plan.

When the minister stepped in and forced them to de-zone, they told the Dail Environment committee they were "astounded" he had intervened.

"We are not prepared to allow the meltdown of the social and economic structures of our county. Should the minister's intervention be successful it will ensure the death of rural Mayo," Fianna Fail councillor Al McDonnell told the committee.

It wasn't about one-off housing in rural Ireland. It was about stopping the spread of housing estates outside villages, towns and cities.

It was about leaving some greenfield sites for future generations to enjoy. It was about calling a halt to the madness and trying to have some order on development, instead of developers dictating what should happen.

NOW is the time to decide whether or not we trust local communities (and their politicians) to plan their own futures, or should we leave the decisions with central government?

The current strategy hasn't worked -- 2,700 ghost estates is testament to that. But what's the alternative? Let Dublin decide?

This is the last throw of the dice for the councillors. In the next year, they will have to bring their plans in line with national policy. And when the dust settles, and the country gets off its knees, those toddlers better have grown up.

We can't afford to get it wrong again.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Editorial: Manic zoning cost us dearly

OVER the last couple of years, all of us have grown familiar with the gruesome story of the "ghost estates". Over the same period, it has been extremely difficult to quantify a more extraordinary story -- how it could have been much worse.

During the boom, the building frenzy affected more than bankers, developers, politicians and manic investors. It affected councillors. Estimates of their crazed activities have grown worse with time. The final figures procured by this newspaper are higher than anything previously feared.

The councillors rezoned an incredible 44,000 hectares of land -- equivalent to half the size of Co Louth -- in the last decade. This amounted to almost four times the official estimate for the quantity of land needed to meet the country's housing needs until 2016.

It would have meant enough land to accommodate almost 1.5 million houses and apartments. These could have housed more than four million people, nearly equal to the present population. In Roscommon, the councillors zoned 12 times the necessary land.

Safeguards for the future have now been put in place. The councillors face a deadline for deciding the future use of swathes of almost worthless land. Colossal sums of money have been lost. The manic zoning helped to lead to perhaps as much as €20bn of the banks' stupendous losses, for which the taxpayers will foot the bill. Have the taxpayers any redress? Probably not, but An Garda Siochana might do well to look into whether brown envelopes ever changed hands.

Irish Independent

Councils zoned land for million surplus homes

LOCAL authorities fuelled the property boom by rezoning enough land to build more than a million homes that were not needed, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The full extent of the zoning madness is confirmed for the first time today as new figures show the scale of the problem is worse than previously feared.

Councils across the country rezoned more than 44,000 hectares of land for housing over the past decade -- 31,633 hectares more than was actually needed.

This equates to enough land for almost 1.5 million houses and apartments -- but just 400,000 units are needed up to 2016, according to the Department of the Environment.

The revelation raises serious questions about the complete lack of regulation that allowed councillors to fuel the property bubble by deeming vast tracts of land to be suitable for housing.

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent also reveal huge discrepancies between different councils across the country.

Housing Minister Michael Finneran's home county of Roscommon is the worst offender, where councillors zoned 1,193pc more land than was needed. Some 1,345 hectares are deemed suitable for housing, when just 104 hectares are required.

It is closely followed by South Tipperary (1,155pc), Cavan (857pc), Waterford (758pc), Clare (717pc) and Monaghan (705pc), which each zoned more than seven times the amount of land needed.

At the other end of the scale, Limerick city is under-zoned -- it needs 491 hectares, but just 249 hectares are zoned -- while Cork City (2pc) and Galway City (6pc) zoned slightly more than required.

Sources last night said a reliance on development levies along with pressure from developers and landowners led to the frenzy of rubber-stamping.

Some councillors also had a vested interest in making rural fields 'suitable' for housing.

"You had councillors who were auctioneers, developers and builders making these decisions," a source said. "And we had tax incentives encouraging people to build houses."

One-third of the toxic property loans going into NAMA are linked to land, meaning taxpayers could be stuck with €20bn of loans linked to fields that may never be developed.

An Bord Pleanala chairman John O'Connor has previously criticised the extent of the rezoning, saying "excessive and unsustainable zoning of land" had been a contributor to the property bubble and its aftermath.

New regional planning guidelines (RPGs) for the country state that 12,476 hectares of housing land are needed to meet demand up to 2016.

Some 44,109 hectares have been zoned -- 254pc more than required. Previous best estimates had suggested 33,000 hectares of land was zoned.

There are currently 1.46 million homes in the country, but enough zoned land for almost 1.5 million houses and apartments.


Based on the fact that Irish homes have an average of 2.75 occupants, the zoning provides for enough extra housing to accommodate more than four million people.

Local authorities will now have to dezone, rezone or forbid development on the massive landbanks as they redraw their development plans.

New laws introduced by Environment Minister John Gormley oblige the councils to ensure their plans are "consistent with" national and regional guidelines, rather than "have regard to" them as was the case.

"They have to comply with the core guidelines," the Department of the Environment said.

"This is the first time local authorities have been given the opportunity to address this. Within 12 months of the RPGs being adopted they have to be done. By the end of this month, all the RPGs will be done. In future we're saying only zone what you need, that's it."

The most recent figures show just over 9,500 new homes have been built in the first eight months of this year. If the trend continues, house building will fall to its lowest level since records began in 1970.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Concern over Nama role for Greystones development

CONCERN HAS been expressed for the future of the €300 million redevelopment of Greystones Harbour after builders confirmed the project is to come under the control of Nama.

Work on the marine elements of the project is scheduled for completion within a month, with the next phase involving the creation of a new harbour square, a medical centre and the provision of five new clubhouses for existing harbour users.

The plan, which is a complex public-private partnership between Wicklow County Council, home builders Park Developments and civil engineers John Sisk Son, was financially underpinned by the development of retail space, a 320-berth marina and 341 new homes.

Some €80 million has already been spent on the development of the new harbour and marina. However, concern for the project’s financial viability was first expressed by the builders themselves. Operating as the Sispar consortium, they asked Wicklow County Council to allow the development of an additional 34 new homes, bringing the total housing element to 375 units.

But renewed concern has now been expressed by councillors following the confirmation from Sispar that the project is now headed for Nama.

The chairman of Wicklow County Council, Labour’s Tom Fortune, said the announcement “came as a shock”.

He said councillors “had been led to believe that the project was on track for partial completion by the end of 2011. Now that is all up in the air. We have been advised that the completion of the project is dependent on Nama making funding available.”

“I think that there is a real risk that the project will not be completed and that if we do not act the hoardings around the harbour could be left there for a very long time,” he said.

However a spokesman for Sispar said Nama was taking in all loans over €5 million, whether they were performing or not. He said he had not heard anyone say the Sispar loans were not performing. While he acknowledged future decisions would require the approval of Nama, he said work was still “ongoing” and a stoppage leaving the hoardings up would seem “unlikely”.

Seán Quirke of Wicklow County Council also confirmed the project was to come under the control of Nama.

He said councillors would be voting on the additional 34 housing units in December and the next phase would get under way in January. He said this did not mean a hiatus in the schedule, as work would continue around the harbour.

Mr Quirke confirmed An Bord Pleanála had issued a decision that the additional 34 new homes would require a new environmental assessment. But he said this was because the homes were initially to be located on an old dump.

The council had subsequently decided to move these houses and therefore could grant permission without reference to a new environmental assessment. Mr Quirke said the council did not believe it needed to consult An Bord Pleanála on the question of a new environmental assessment in relation to the new housing site, as the board’s objections had related only to the former dump.

The council proposes using Part VII of the Planning and Development Act which does not provide for an appeal process.

Irish Times

Poolbeg incinerator work set to restart

CONSTRUCTION OF the controversial Poolbeg incinerator could restart within months following the decision of An Bord Pleanála to grant permission to Dublin City Council to compulsorily purchase land required for the facility.

An Bord Pleanála will this week write to the council to say that it does not intend to hold public hearings on the application to acquire 65 plots of land along the coastline.

The letter will give the council the authority to confirm its compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the land.

The decision means the council will no longer need a foreshore licence from Minister for the Environment John Gormley to develop a water-cooling facility for the development, which was the last barrier to the construction of the 600,000 tonne capacity incinerator.

Construction of the incinerator began last December but has been suspended since May because, developers Covanta said, of the lack of a foreshore licence which had been applied for in August 2008.

Mr Gormley has previously said that he is not delaying making a decision on the licence, as responsibility for foreshore licences was only transferred to his department last January.

By taking ownership of the land, the council would no longer need the licence as it would have automatic access to the river water.

The council applied for the order in the middle of August last following a request by Covanta.

The compulsory purchase order process is often a considerably lengthy one, involving protracted oral hearings.

However, An Bord Pleanála said they received no valid objections to the order and so there was no requirement for a hearing.

The board did receive objections from residents’ associations and environmental groups to the compulsory purchase of the land but, as these were not “notice parties”, ie owners of the land, it dismissed their appeals.

The owners of the land, a 1.7sq km plot, are the Minister for Finance (on behalf of the State), the Dublin Port Company and the council itself.

The Dublin Port Company said it had no objection to the order as it would have “no impact on the operations of the port”.

Under the CPO process, the council must publish a notice stating that the order has been confirmed after it receives the letter from An Bord Pleanála.

Three weeks after publication, the order becomes operative and negotiations then begin on the level of compensation to be paid to the landowners.

However, there is provision within this timeframe for a judicial review of the CPO decision to be sought.

It is unlikely that any of the three landowners will take this step, as they didn’t object to the order in the first place.

Other parties could seek a review, if they can establish that they have a “substantial interest” in the land.

Legal sources specialising in planning law said that this would be difficult for anyone to establish if they weren’t the owners of the land, particularly if they had already been excluded from the process by An Bord Pleanála.

Damien Cassidy, who is chairman of the Ringsend, Sandymount and Irishtown Environmental Group, was among those whose objections to the order was considered invalid by An Bord Pleanála.

The group had objected on the grounds that the compulsory purchase order lands included part of a public road and footpath.

At the time it submitted the order, the council said that it had no intention of blocking the public right of way.

Irish Times

Monday, 4 October 2010

Aldi refused permission for Kenmare store

German discount food store Aldi has been refused permission for an outlet at the entrance to Kenmare, Co Kerry.

The proposal would represent “a poor quality form of development”, An Bord Pleanála ruled as one of its principal reasons for refusal. The local authority had already refused Aldi.

The site at the junction of Ring of Kerry (N70) and Killarney to Kenmare road (N71) is opposite a Centra store and petrol station. An Bord Pleanála ruled against Aldi on the grounds of traffic hazard and location outside the town centre.

Irish Times

Use of force over Corrib 'augurs badly' for State

THE STATE’S “unprecedented” use of law and order forces against “its own citizens” while protecting private commercial interests augurs badly for a remote community in north Mayo and for the State as a whole, a Bord Pleanála hearing was told yesterday.

John Monaghan of the community group Pobal Chill Chomáin was speaking on the penultimate day of the public hearing into the controversial Corrib gas hearing.

During an extended session in Belmullet yesterday, various interest groups and observers, for and against the project, made their closing remarks. Esmonde Keane SC is due to close proceedings today on behalf of Shell.

“This application by Shell EP Ireland Ltd . . . to construct an upstream gas pipeline is only the most recent episode in arguably the most contentious issue to affect this island outside the Troubles,” Mr Monaghan argued.

“At no other time in the history of this State have private interests so clearly invaded the realm of the common good, and the unprecedented use of the State’s security and armed forces against its own citizens should be properly recorded as a dark development that does not bode well for the future of this community, or this country,” Mr Monaghan said.

Referring to the fallout from an ethos of “light regulation”, Micheál Ó Seighin said: “In a weak regulatory environment lacking in political will, a commercial entity will bleed every contradiction for its benefit and to the detriment of the citizen, if that is what it is allowed to do.”

Echoing these concerns, Ciarán Ó Murchú of Pobail le Chéile said: “In the recent Freefall documentary on the current economic and banking crisis, a combination of factors was cited as the main reason for our current precarious economic position.”

He argued these same factors – weak political leadership, the strong lobby influence of commercial developers and a failure of regulatory authorities to act in the best interests of the State and the people – led to the Corrib controversy. The resumed planning appeals board hearing is under the remit of the Strategic Infrastructure Act and is deliberating on a revised application by Shell, which involves tunnelling a section of the pipeline route under the Sruwaddacon estuary, a conservation area.

Speaking on behalf of six local contractors, Sean Keane, of Artec Construction Ltd, made a submission on behalf of six local contractors employed by Shell.

“Having worked with Shell for the past number of years on the project, we as a group would like to assure you, inspector, that if the standards of health and safety and environmental and work procedures experienced by us on all aspects of the project are a benchmark, we would have no concerns.”

Parish priest of Kilmore-Erris, Fr Kevin Hegarty, said his regular attendance at the hearing further confirmed his faith in the project. “In my original submission I said that I had come to the conclusion over the last few years that this project is safe and environmentally sensitive. The applicant has been guided by stringent Irish, European and international standards in its design and development.”

Attracta Uí­ Bhroin argued on behalf of An Taisce that Shell had not “credibly demonstrated” either the strategic or sustainable basis for the project.

“The argument that Corrib constitutes 60 per cent of Ireland’s demand has been advanced. It remains to be seen if it will ever approach anything approaching that of Ireland’s supply,” she said.

Ciarán Ó hÓbáin, from the petroleum affairs division of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, cited the conclusion of safety consultant Peter Waite of Entec: “The assessment carried out on the proposed design, as described in the submission, leads Entec to conclude that there are no significant reasons on grounds of public safety reasons for refusing to grant a consent to construct the Corrib pipeline on the basis of both absolute separation from dwellings and the extremely low level of risk presented by the pipeline.”

Irish Times

The Battle for Ballinaboy: 'We never imagined we would see this in rural Ireland'

10 years ago this month Bord Gáis announced the building of the Corrib gas pipeline in Co Mayo. The unfolding controversy has been reported by our Western Correspondent, Lorna Siggins, ever since. In an extract from her new book she recalls how, in late 2006, heightened security and escalating protests caused the situation to boil over

SUPT JOE GANNON was assigned to Belmullet, in Co Mayo, in July 2006. Later that autumn he described a scene that resembled a conflict zone at Ballinaboy, where Shell was trying to build a terminal to bring gas ashore from its Corrib field, 80km offshore. The entrance to the site had been “blocked for a year and a half”, and “local people had a veto on who went in and out”. The Garda’s remit was to ensure there were no arrests and no “martyrs”. At Shell’s compound at Rossport anyone arriving in a jeep, whether or not they were from the oil company, would be “surrounded by these locals and their cars, and questioned for anything up to three- quarters of an hour”, he told Garda Review magazine. “I felt that it was time to take the ground back, as is my responsibility as the district officer . . . People have constitutional rights to go about their lawful business unhindered.”

Decades of the rosary in Irish had drowned his words as he addressed protesters through his loudhailer at Ballinaboy early on the morning of September 26th, 2006. An estimated 100 people were determined to ensure that work did not resume before they were sure that safety issues around the project, some of which dated back to 2000, had been resolved. The superintendent turned the dawn convoys of Shell staff back to cheers, he said, from the group.

Liam Leonard, a lecturer at NUI Galway who published a book that month on the environmental movement in Ireland, Green Nation, forecast that protests would not die down in the absence of proper consultation with the community. And they didn’t, even as it emerged that Shell, which had already said it would compensate landowners on the pipeline route, had offered each owner an additional €10,000 a year, as well as trying to withdraw the legal action that had led to the jailing of the Rossport Five the previous year.

ON OCTOBER 2ND, 114 gardaí of all ranks were transferred to Belmullet, and by October 11th the special policing operation at Ballinaboy had cost €675,639, excluding salaries. The tension grew. Up to 100 people from the community, many of them middle-aged and elderly, joined younger people from the Rossport Solidarity Camp, which had started the summer before, in support of the Rossport Five, and Shell to Sea protesters from other parts of the country in a daily early-morning walk up to the terminal gates, facing up to 200 gardaí, with each side bearing video cameras. The gardaí’s orders were to ensure safe access to and from the terminal for Shell workers and contractors, who were transported in a convoy of buses and jeeps from Bangor Erris before 8am each day.

On October 3rd two people were injured at the terminal gates, as up to 170 gardaí supported an operation that involved members of the Garda public-order unit. One of the two injured required oxygen from Dr Jerry Cowley, the local Independent TD, who had to walk more than a quarter of a mile with three medical bags, as gardaí would not permit his car through.

Supt Gannon told Garda Review that plans had been drawn up at Belmullet Garda Station. A Garda “protest removal group”, which had “expert training to deal with people who are obstructing the roadway”, was called in, along with an additional 150 gardaí from outside the district. At 3am the protesters were asked to move and refused. “They had all of their vehicles locked, in gear with the handbrakes on, and the wheels turned – so we couldn’t lift them with the additional winching gear. We had a powerful tractor with us, so we drove up to the first vehicle. The owner remonstrated with me but refused to remove it. I gave the direction to the tractor to back up; he hooked a chain on to it and pulled it down the road with the wheels locked and everything. I proceeded to do the same with about five more; by that stage we had opened up a channel at the gate, so I lined the gardaí up either side and created a pathway in.”

Protesters at the terminal gate were asked to move behind barriers, where they would “be accommodated in a peaceful and lawful protest. They wouldn’t budge, so I gave the order for the gardaí to move them back behind the barriers. They all dropped – on command from one of them – and sat down and all linked hands and arms”. Supt Gannon described how Sgt Conor O’Reilly’s team – the public-order unit – “unfastened” the protesters while trained “lifters” carried them across to the cordoned area behind barriers. It took about half an hour to remove 80 people. The next step was to remove about 50 vehicles. By 7.15am the road was clear and the protesters were “in the corral flanked by gardaí”.

The press had by now arrived in “large numbers”, and workers were driven into the Shell site at 7.50am, followed by a convoy of lorries to take away peat that needed to be cleared. “There were no arrests,” Supt Gannon said. “That was part of our strategy; we did not want to facilitate anyone down there with a route to martyrdom. That has been the policy ever since.”

He described how succeeding days brought “similar scenes”, and one arrest. “It was fairly rough on days,” he acknowledged. “And as the days passed the tensions and the aggression heightened.”

Gardaí had been filming three or four hours of video footage a day, and had more than 50 hours by the end of October. The footage was evidence, Supt Gannon explained. “The protesters have been recording everything since day one, and then you have the outside influences, the ecowarriors, and it is always part of their operations to have a camera in your face, trying to agitate and get a reaction. They will use it to their advantage, and Indymedia [a collective of volunteer journalists] have been down there from day one.”

AT THIS STAGE an unsubstantiated Sunday newspaper report alleged links between Sinn Féin/IRA and community objectors to the project. The allegations were almost inevitable, a Shell to Sea spokesman, Mark Garavan, noted later. The protests at Ballinaboy and televised clashes with gardaí, which continued through the late autumn of 2006, would be seen as “feeding into an agenda to portray the campaign as dangerous and radical”, said Garavan.

On October 13th Maura Harrington, a local school principal who was one of the protesters, made national newspapers. She was pictured lying on the ground holding a cross bearing the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian activist who was hanged in 1995. She said she had been “knocked to the ground” by a garda and had sustained neck injuries. She was taken by ambulance to hospital in Castlebar.

The following week, back in Dublin, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources confirmed that gardaí were investigating telephone “death threats” that afternoon to Noel Dempsey, the marine minister, who had defended the deployment of gardaí in Erris in an interview on RTÉ Radio’s News at One.

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS in the middle of their first term at college were among those who made the long journey by bus to Erris for a protest on Friday, October 20th. It was now three weeks since the dawn pickets had begun, and this was the largest gathering so far.

When some of the protesters strayed on to the road to delay the convoy of jeeps carrying Shell contract staff, gardái moved them back. Several scuffles broke out. Over the following two or three hours the protesters tried to delay lorries, insults were hurled, gardaí recorded events on video, and one man was arrested for allegedly damaging Garda video equipment.

Jerry Cowley was concerned about the atmosphere. He called on Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy, a Mayo man, to ensure that the force showed respect for protesting locals. After all, this corner of Ireland had one of the lowest crime rates in the country. It appeared that a minority of gardaí were showing signs of “ill discipline” and “undue aggression” at the protests. “We never imagined we would see this in rural Ireland,” said Mary Corduff, wife of Willie Corduff, one of the Rossport Five, of filmed scenes that appeared on YouTube. “Gardaí that we knew on first-name terms using batons against local people, tossing them into ditches. We were seriously concerned about people getting hurt.”

Her husband joined Micheál Ó Seighin, also of the Rossport Five, and Mark Garavan at a Shell to Sea press conference in Castlebar. The group called for an independent and public commission of inquiry to investigate the “optimum development concept” for the Corrib gas project. The Shell to Sea proposal was dismissed by the minister and by Shell just hours after it was proposed. The minister said he “did not see anything new in the initiative”.

Leaflets were prepared, promoting a peaceful protest on November 10th, 2006, but there was a sense of foreboding in the wake of the minister’s speedy rejection of the Shell to Sea compromise. By the end of that morning there were bruised arms and legs, torn clothes and uniforms, and eight people, including four gardaí, had been injured and two had been arrested. It was a day that residents would not forget for a long time. After what Supt Gannon described as more than two hours of negotiations, and several warnings on his loudhailer, batons were drawn on protesters at Ballinaboy. He described the use of truncheons to move them from the road as “slow and methodical”. The altercation was later broadcast on RTÉ and posted on YouTube.

BUSES AND CARS carrying supporters from Dublin, Galway and elsewhere had arrived the night before. The stand-off had begun at about 7am, when roadblocks were erected, preventing protesters from approaching the terminal site. Maura Harrington began driving her van towards a line of gardaí and blowing her horn. Her vehicle was then pushed by supporters through two Garda barriers, and two gardaí used batons to smash her vehicle’s windows and pull her out.

Several protesters drove to a local quarry and builders’ suppliers, both of which were identified as working for the terminal project. Local fisherman Pat O’Donnell was among them. He stressed that the approach was not a picket or protest but an attempt to persuade the businesses to stop helping Shell. The gardaí followed them there, and O’Donnell was pulled aside when he attempted to speak to the owner of the quarry. He sustained three broken ribs, and another man’s nose was broken. The activity was caught on camera by Jim Cahill, an independent film-maker, who described it as very harrowing. A truck had already left the quarry, and O’Donnell was participating in a “thin picket line” when gardaí intervened, Cahill said. O’Donnell said he believed he would have been “left for dead” had it not been for the presence of Cahill and his cameraman and the intervention of another local man.

“I BELIEVE SOMEONE will be killed, given the violence by the State and the low number of trained police,” a distressed Micheál Ó Seighin said afterwards. A Glenamoy farmer and Shell to Sea supporter named PJ Moran appealed for help. “If Bertie Ahern had an ounce of cop-on, he’d come down and see for himself what’s happening. We’re not asking for anything, only for our safety,” he pleaded. It seemed as if the taoiseach had already made up his mind. RTÉ’s northwest correspondent, Eileen Magnier, caught up with him on a tour of Roscommon and Leitrim the same day. “Quite frankly, from the government’s point of view, that’s it,” Ahern told her. “The negotiations are over, the rule of law has to be implemented and the work goes on. And if there are those who try to frustrate that, they’re breaking the law and it’s a matter for the gardaí to enforce it.”

JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS Shell announced it was moving from Bangor Erris to a €1 million office development in Belmullet. The complex was in property leased from Údarás na Gaeltachta, the state agency for Gaeltacht development. The gardaí had also been using part of the complex, rent-free, for deployment of extra members of the force to provide security. Given the Gaeltacht agency’s role in social and economic development in the isolated area, the business arrangement was perceived by some involved in Shell to Sea as yet another betrayal by the State. The business arrangement was defended by the authority’s chief executive, Pádraig Ó hAoláin. It was not clear how many Irish speakers would be working with the company, or whether any such requirements would apply.

The Rossport Five had a reunion in the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar for the publication of their book, Our Story: The Rossport Five , comprising a series of interviews with Mark Garavan. It was a good-humoured gathering on a cold winter’s night, but the low-key attention the media paid it was in sharp contrast to the adulation showered on the five men and their families in Dublin after their release from jail almost 15 months before.

The following morning some of the families would be out before dawn at Ballinaboy again. Between 70 and 80 people, mainly from the locality, were maintaining the morning protest. Three days before Christmas gardaí denied using a truncheon on a protester at Ballinaboy, and denied they were trying to provoke locals with what Mary Corduff described as “personal remarks”. It was a “very sad development coming up to Christmas”, she concluded. “It seems as if the gardaí are getting annoyed with us now, as they haven’t succeeded in doing what Shell wants them to do, which is to frighten us away.”

This is an edited extract from Once Upon a Time in the West: The Corrib Gas Controversy , by Lorna Siggins, published by Transworld Ireland, £14.99

The Corrib gas controversy: A timeline

1996 Corrib gas field discovery, 80km off the Mayo coast, confirmed by Enterprise Energy Ireland

October 2000 Bord Gáis announces a gas pipeline from Mayo to Galway

November 2000 Enterprise Energy Ireland applies for planning permission for a gas processing plant at Ballinaboy

April 2002 Minister for the marine Frank Fahey approves construction of the pipeline, exempt from planning

May 2002 Shell takes over Enterprise Energy Ireland

April 2003 An Bord Pleanála turns down application for onshore terminal at Ballinaboy

October 2004 New planning application for Corrib onshore terminal given final approval by planning board

June 2005 Residents’ concerns over first proposed onshore pipeline route lead to jailing of Rossport Five for 94 days

July 2005 Minister for the marine Noel Dempsey directs Shell to dismantle an illegal 3km-section of onshore pipeline

July 2006 Mediation fails to resolve dispute but report recommends pipeline route be modified to take it away from houses

November 2007 Restoration of special area of conservation ordered at Glengad after unauthorised drilling

February 2009 Shell seeks permission for revised pipeline route, avoiding houses in Rossport

May 2009 Bord Pleanála hearing on pipeline opens. It deems half of the new route unacceptable but gives approval if alterations made

May 2010 Third route under Sruwaddacon estuary applied for by Corrib gas partners

August 2010 Bord Pleanála resumes oral hearing into pipeline. They ended yesterday.

Irish Times