Friday, 29 April 2011

Nama failing to look after historic buildings in its portfolio, says RHA

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE FALLING INTO NEGLECT: THE ROYAL Hibernian Academy (RHA) has strongly criticised the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) for failing to take steps to protect historic buildings owned by developers whose multi-million euro loans have ended up in the State’s “bad bank”.

A statement – signed by its president, architect Des McMahon, four former presidents, 23 members of the academy and five associates – described this “conduct of omission as in itself an act of vandalism . . . totally inappropriate in this day and age”.

The signatories include some of Ireland’s leading artists – painters Pauline Bewick, James Hanley, Eithne Jordan, Brett McEntagart and Patrick Pye; and sculptors Rachel Joynt, Carolyn Mulholland, Áilis O’Connell, Vivienne Roche and Imogen Stuart.

They said they were “extremely alarmed at the continued deterioration of our architectural stock of historic and conservation merit”, such as the former Hume Street Hospital, which adjoins the RHA gallery at Ely Place, recently stripped by thieves.

The artists accused Nama of “not taking its legal responsibility seriously in regard to appropriate protection of several historic buildings currently under their ownership” and said its “response to our approaches to them . . . has been evasive and ambiguous”.

Nama sent a letter to the secretary of the RHA “not admitting that they owned such properties and not making any commitment to safeguarding them”, according to Mr McMahon, who was chief architect for the GAA’s acclaimed redevelopment of Croke Park.

He said the issue had been raised at the academy’s April meeting and “the general view was that if this was a painting or piece of sculpture, there’d be no question of them saying that they only own the loan attached to it, not the painting or piece of sculpture”.

Referring specifically to Nama, he said: “There should be no ambiguity whatsoever about a body that’s technically our national agency taking steps to protect our national architectural heritage. And as I understand it, they are legally obliged to do so.”

Painter Maeve McCarthy, who drafted the statement, said section 141 of the 2009 Act that established Nama gave it the authority to seek “entry and maintenance” orders in the District Court to secure any building “at risk from trespassers or vandalism”.

A spokesman for Nama reiterated the agency had merely “acquired loans which are often secured by properties, but it has not acquired the properties themselves. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that Nama has a direct responsibility in this area.

“Nevertheless, where the agency is aware that a debtor is not honouring their responsibilities in this area, the agency has directly taken action with the property owners or with the relevant authorities to try to ensure that the properties are properly secured.”

Ms McCarthy said she had a studio on the top floor of the RHA gallery and could see thieves stripping lead from the roof valleys of Hume Street Hospital last February “and walking out through the front door with it and all the copper piping they took”.

Along with her brother Peter, she started a campaign to save the building by contacting Dublin City Council, TDs, councillors, An Taisce and the media, including using Facebook. “We’re outraged by what’s been happening, and we just can’t let the vandals take over.” She noted that when the council issued an enforcement notice under the Planning Acts, it was served both on developer Michael Kelly, who had bought the former hospital for €30 million in 2006, and on Nama, requiring repair works to be carried out by April 29th.

“There is security now at Nos 3-8 Hume Street, but no roof repair, so it will get a court order after that if the work isn’t done. It is a scandal that Nama, the bankers, developers and those in authority do nothing while our heritage is plundered and destroyed.”

Ms McCarthy also expressed concern about Belcamp College, on the north side of Dublin, which was recently ransacked and set on fire – “that’s also in Nama”, she said – and about the fate of Aldborough House, on Portland Row, which is vacant.

Other historic properties she identified as in danger include two houses in Henrietta Street, owned by Dublin City Council, and others in James’s Street and Thomas Street owned by Liam Carroll, whose property group collapsed with debts of €1.3 billion. For more information, visit

Irish Times

Conservation once again

THE IRISH Georgian Society, flush with the success of its first architectural conservation awards last year, is inviting architects who’ve worked on historic buildings to submit their projects for scrutiny again this year. And it’s not just crumbling castles or stately homes.

As the society is at pains to point out, conservation applies to “all buildings both great and small” and also includes their settings. Thus, for example, the restoration of a walled garden would qualify. The term “conservation” is interpreted to include the preservation, restoration, adaptation and maintenance of buildings and sites – even better when it involves the use of traditional skills such as making lime mortar or restoring decayed or damage plasterwork.

There are two award categories, one for a conservation project and one for a non-CAD (computer-aided design) drawing of a historic building. The deadline for submissions is 12 noon on Monday July 8th, and the awards will be announced in the autumn.

The six-person jury includes Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin and president of the Irish Georgian SocietyMarion Cashman, board member of the Irish Georgian Foundation, and Frank McDonald, Environment Editor, of The Irish Times.

Irish Times

ESB names design team for new HQ

A team led by Grafton Architects and O’Mahony Pike has emerged as the winner of an international competition to design a new headquarters for the ESB on Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Street, writes FRANK McDONALD.

The ESB confirmed yesterday that it would be commencing “exclusive negotiations” with the two Dublin-based practices with a view to concluding an architectural services contract for the scheme.

The announcement came two years after the ESB first said it was planning to redevelop the site.

Irish Times

Shell invests extra €60m to complete Corrib gas project

SHELL IRELAND has received a further cash injection of €60 million from its parent company to complete the Corrib gas project.

This brings to €190 million what Shell E&P Ireland Ltd has received in additional cash in recent months as it prepares to complete the final phase of the project that includes the construction of a 5km subterranean tunnel to bring gas ashore from the Corrib Gas field.

Documents recently filed with the Companies Office show the fresh cash injection has brought Shell Ireland’s share capital to €614 million.

The field has one trillion cubic feet of gas and the final spend on developing the field is expected to top €2.5 billion – more than three times the original estimate of €800 million.

A spokeswoman for Shell Ireland said the costs of the tunnel phase would “represent capital investment of several hundred million euro”.

All the necessary permissions and licences to proceed with the construction of the tunnel have been secured.

This follows An Bord Pleanála, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Energy and Natural Resources providing the necessary consents for the tunnel project to proceed.

The Shell spokeswoman said “the €60 million is to support the company’s ongoing activities on the Corrib project”.

“Now that all the necessary consents and permits are in place, Shell E&P Ireland Limited plans to commence construction in the coming months,” the spokeswoman added.

The numbers to be employed in the final phase are not as yet confirmed, but it is expected that several hundred jobs will be created during the construction of the onshore pipeline.

An Taisce and two local residents have instituted legal action in the Commercial Court against An Bord Pleanála’s decision to give the pipeline the go-ahead.

The case has been adjourned to October and does not impact on Shell Ireland’s ability to proceed with the work, as no court injunction has been sought or granted.

The spokeswoman said “it is anticipated that first gas will flow in 2013 at the earliest”.

Construction work on the tunnel will take approximately 22 months to complete.

The tunnel proposal to bring the gas ashore only emerged after An Bord Pleanála ruled out half a previous pipeline proposal on safety grounds in 2009.

Last year, it emerged that two of Shell’s partners, Marathon Oil and Statoil, had written off €399 million arising from delays with the project and due to falling gas prices.

Canadian company Vermilion Energy bought Marathon’s 18.5 per cent share in the Corrib field in 2009.

Irish Times

Protest grows to stop Dublin 'plundering' Shannon water

A GROUP opposed to controversial plans by Dublin City Council to extract massive volumes of water from the river Shannon to boost dwindling supplies in the capital has stepped up its campaign.

The Shannon Protection Alliance is to establish another branch of its group at a public meeting in Dromineer, Co Tipperary, this week. The organisation has already established branches in Athlone and Limerick as part of its ongoing campaign to block plans to extract water from the Shannon at a rate of 350 million litres per day from Lough Derg.

The alliance says this roughly equates to the amount of water which leaks from the Dublin water delivery system.

The group has called on the Dublin local authority to fix the leaks and conserve water instead of “plundering” the Shannon, which supplies 1.5 million people living in its catchment area.

In July 2010, consultants RPS and Veolia recommended a €470 million scheme which would see the water pumped to the Dublin region and commuter towns along the way via a reservoir and treatment plant near Portarlington. The original plan was to extract the water from Lough Ree but following massive political pressure from local communities in the Athlone area, the plan was changed and Lough Derg became the favoured option.

Alliance members are worried for the future of the Shannon and its communities, and believe the controversial scheme is unnecessary and if built would prove to be “an expensive white elephant”.

“Its proposers use unrealistic Celtic Tiger-era water demand forecasts to justify it. Greater Dublin’s realistic needs can be met by a combination of fixing leaks currently wasting 30 per cent of treated water, tapping proven local groundwater resources, applying demand management measures such as metering/charging, reusing grey water and harvesting rainwater,” group spokesman Joc Sanders said.

The alliance plans to campaign against the proposals through the media, political institutions, An Bord Pleanála and European institutions, Mr Sanders added.

According to alliance chairman Gerry Siney, the controversial plans have not considered the needs of communities living along the Shannon.

“The future needs of Shannon-side communities for water have neither been quantified nor considered. Good water supplies are as important as airport and road infrastructure in attracting IT, bio-tech and pharma industries – we dare not risk the future economic development of our midwest region. Why not move new development to the water resource, rather than the other way around?” he asked. “We don’t seek to selfishly deny Dublin water, but the current proposals are not the right way to go,” he added.

The meeting will take place this Thursday, April 28th at the Lough Derg Yacht Club in Dromineer.

Irish Times

Courts body to meet 'alarmed' residents

THE COURTS Service has agreed to meet local residents who have been objecting to plans for a new courthouse in Wexford which they believe would overwhelm the town’s mid-19th century Municipal Buildings.

The residents have the support of Wexford-born writers including John Banville and Colm Toibín, who were “saddened and alarmed to learn the much-loved Municipal Buildings is to be subsumed into the new Wexford courthouse”.

Built as Tate’s School in 1867, the Municipal Buildings in Wygram became the headquarters of Wexford Town Council from the 1950s to 2007, when the 1.5-acre property was sold to the Courts Service for €3 million as a site for Wexford’s courthouse.

Permission was granted last November under part nine of the 2000 Planning Act, under which there is no right of third-party appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Also, because it was a “security” project, only limited information was made publicly available.

The local Davitt Road North/Windmill Residents Group complained the Municipal Buildings – a protected structure – would be overwhelmed by the proposed courthouse and much of the open site turned into a car park for judges and court staff.

“Traffic is a major problem in this residential area. The vast majority of residences are of a very modest nature and size, with modest spaces to front and back,” the group said, adding that their properties would be overlooked by the proposed courthouse block.

“The local residents were kept totally in the dark until a fait accompli was presented to them,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Bernie Lloyd. “To date, we have not met any OPW [Office of Public Works] or Court Service officials, and it’s not for the want of trying.”

But John Mahon, the Court Service’s head of estates and buildings, told The Irish Times they will be “engaging with the local residents” to assure them their concerns had been taken on board.

The proposed courthouse, designed by Newenham Mulligan Architects, would incorporate the L-shaped Municipal Buildings for use as offices and erect a new block to the rear, with four courts stacked on top of each other.

Michael Grace, chief architect for the project, said the contemporary building would not be “out of keeping with the scale of courthouses in other county towns” and, in Wexford, the much larger scale Opera House “happily co-exists with houses”.

Although the relevant drawings under the part nine application were not available for public inspection, he said the new building would be at least 22m from housing and its windows faced away from them or were opaque. The complex would extend to 4,680sq m and is likely to cost between €12 million and €15 million. “Funding is not in place, but we’re pressing for it to go to tender before the end of 2011,” Mr Mahon said.

Michael Haugh, assistant principal architect at the OPW, said a number of options had been considered to create a “coherent” court complex and the Municipal Buildings “ticked all the boxes”.

Irish Times

Aldi gets planning permission for store in Leitrim

AN BORD Pleanála has given the go-ahead for a new Aldi store on the outskirts of Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.

The board found that seven out of eight suggested sites in the town centre were unsuitable because they were liable to flooding.

The development, which had been opposed by the representative group for independent grocers RGdata, is to include at least 88 car parking spaces.

Permission was granted subject to 17 conditions, on a site adjoining the N4 and the Castlecarra Road, on the Dublin side of the town, just 300m from Tesco.

RGdata had argued that the development was contrary to retail planning guidelines, that the site was 800m from the town’s main street and not within walking distance, that customers would be wholly reliant on cars and that there were a number of vacant units and alternative sites available in the centre of the town.

Concern was also expressed about the impact on traffic on the N4, the main Dublin/Sligo route, and the risk of accidents due to increased queuing.

Objections were also received from Mike Bunn and Roger Eldridge who expressed concern about traffic and zoning considerations and also about the impact on the environment, given the “significant” greenery available on the site to support birds.

The developers propose to demolish an existing building and construct an Aldi store including an off-licence with a floor space of almost 1,500sq m. The board’s inspector found that because of the “significant” expansion of Carrick and its status as the county town, the development would not be contrary to zoning provisions or retail planning guidelines.

Irish Times

Planning cost 1,000 jobs, says group

IRELAND RECENTLY lost 1,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector to the UK because our planning system is such a “a quagmire”, An Taisce’s national energy officer said yesterday.

Elizabeth Muldowney said a Spanish company involved in wind energy had investigated the possibility of locating in Ireland but had decided to set up in Britain instead because of the inconsistencies and uncertainty surrounding planning here.

She visited Madrid in recent weeks in an unsuccessful attempt to get the company to reverse its decision.

Ms Muldowney was participating in a debate at the Robert John Kane energy symposium in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim about the need for an energy-specific planning body that could enable the sector to bypass local authorities and An Bord Pleanála.

Most speakers at the event criticised the lack of consistency among county planners.

Former environment minister Dick Roche described inconsistency as the “evil at the heart of the planning system”.

He said his experience was that “if I knew which planner was handling a file I would also be able to say what the decision will be”.

Irish Times

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Jesuits seek €2.5m for Dublin 4 site

Loyola, a house on 1.25 acres being sold by the Jesuit order, comes with planning permission for 18 apartments

A RESIDENTIAL site going for sale today at the junction of Sandford Road and Eglinton Road in Dublin 4 will be seen as the best redevelopment opportunity to have been brought on to the market since the industry took a severe hit.

Agents CB Richard Ellis is quoting €2.5 million for the three-storey house, Loyola, owned by the Jesuit order, which was extensively damaged by fire in 2007. It stands on a site of 0.512 hectares (1.25 acres) with frontage on to Sandford Road and EglintonRoad. Large detached houses in this prestigious corner of Dublin 4 – within easy walking distance of both Donnybrook and Ranelagh – were selling for more than €5 million before the market took a dive.

Loyola was not listed for preservation but was one of the largest houses in the area with a floor area of 751sq m (8,083sq ft). It served as the headquarters of the Jesuit order in Ireland.

Only last month, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for an apartment development on the site with seven homes to be located in the original building and 11 more in a new block.

Eight of the apartments will have two bedrooms, six will have three bedrooms and the remaining four will have one bedroom.

If the site is sold at the asking price it will work out at slightly less than €140,000 per unit. At the peak of the market, sites in south Dublin sold for up to €300,000 per unit.

Wesley Rothwell said the sale should appeal to a variety of buyers, from owner occupiers who may choose to restore the original house, to embassies, nursing home operators, developers and investors.

However, the likelihood is that it will be bought by one of a handful of Dublin developers who were lucky to have offloaded completed housing stock and not to have been lumbered with overvalued sites when the market turned in 2008.

Loyola is one of the first of a number of residential sites expected to come on the market in south Dublin over the coming months. Most of the others will be offered for sale by receivers but it is by no means certain they will find buyers unless there is a significant easing of the credit restrictions.

Irish Times

Kerry GP centre needs permission

The use of the upper floors of a commercial office block in Killarney as a medical centre where most of the town’s GPs have relocated since Christmas needs planning permission, an Bord Pleanála has ruled.

In conjunction with healthcare company Prime Healthcare, and against opposition from local pharmacists, more than a dozen GP practices have moved into the Reeks Gateway building.

Two new pharmacies have opened there. However, many pharmacists in Killarney, backed by their union, opposed the centralisation of the GPs.

The council had said the medical centre there was “exempted development.”.

Irish Times

Group claims 72% are against wind farm plan

MORE THAN 400 submissions on an €80 million wind farm proposed for south Roscommon have been received by Roscommon County Council.

Green energy company Galetech has applied for planning permission to build an electricity generating wind farm, Seven Hills, close to Dysart, in the townlands of Turrock, Cronin, Mullaghhardagh, Gortaphuill, Tullyneeny and Glenrevagh. Galetech already has interests in wind farms in Cavan and Monaghan and is based in Cootehill, Co Cavan.

However, the Wind Turbine Action Group, South Roscommon, has vowed to oppose the application at council and An Bord Pleanála level, “and beyond if necessary”.

They claim 72 per cent of the 408 submissions to the council on the planning application are opposed to the wind farm, with 28 per cent in favour.

Spokesman for the group, Albert van Beek, said the high level of opposition did not mean all opponents were opposed to wind energy, but “the fact that so many people are against this wind farm is a sign that cannot be ignored”.

According to an analysis of the submissions by the group, 77 per cent of objections related to potential damage to the landscape; 9 per cent said the development would negatively influence the tourism industry in the area; 53 per cent were concerned about noise and 42 per cent about health issues.

The future value of property was a concern for 39 per cent.

Mr van Beek said Dysart was not mentioned in the county development plan as suitable for a wind farm.

He said a council draft wind energy strategy identified the area as suitable for wind farms. However, he said the designation of land value in the area as “moderate” in that strategy “is another way of saying this landscape is of lowest value”.

Opponents have cited an Irish Academy of Engineers report, Energy Policy and Economic Recovery, 2010-2015, which they say argues against investment in new wind farms.

Irish Times

Greystones harbour

Letter to Irish Times re. Greystones Harbour

Madam, – The council holds a bond of at least €5 million to ensure completion of Greystones harbour. This is enough to provide the public square and five free clubhouses. However, the bond is not exercisable until 2014. I believe that these facilities will be completed long before then, but at least we have a backstop date.

This very fine harbour has now been built in less time than Bord Pleanála will have taken to review it on five occasions. When open, it will be seen as the best community harbour in Ireland or Britain .

The delay is frustrating, but it should be seen in the context of the more than 100 years that Greystones has been trying to get the harbour rebuilt. – Yours, etc,


Manor Avenue,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Irish Times

Monday, 18 April 2011

Protecting our raised bogs very much in the public interest

ANALYSIS: It is local politics as usual when it comes to turf-cutting as selfish vested interest seeks to trounce science and common sense

IT TOOK a Dutchman to make us realise that our bogs were precious wildlife habitats and not merely places for harvesting cheap fuel. As long ago as 1986, Dr Matthijs Schouten was so appalled by the destruction of peatlands here that he set up the Dutch Foundation for Conservation of Irish Bogs.

Professor of restoration ecology at Wageningen University and also an adjunct professor at UCC, he became known as “the father of bog conservation in Ireland” and was knighted in 2004 by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands for the prominent role he played in bringing the fate of Irish bogs to international attention.

The foundation raised sufficient funds in the late 1980s to purchase three endangered sites – Scragh Bog, in Co Westmeath; Cummeragh River bog, in Co Kerry, and Clochar na gCon bog, in Co Galway – and gifted them to the Irish nation. As a result, the government was shamed into taking the issue seriously.

Dr Schouten pointed out to all and sundry that the Dutch came to regret the destruction of their own peatlands and were investing millions of guilders in conserving the last remaining examples in the southeast of the country. They also built a bog museum in Veen that attracts 1.5 million visitors per year.

But it was not just the tireless efforts of a Dutch ecologist that we needed to take note of. Under the EU habitats directive, adopted in 1992, Ireland was required to designate special areas of conservation (SACs) for protection – and one of the mandatory categories included raised bogs of European importance.

Located mainly in the midlands, raised bogs once covered an area of more than 300,000 hectares (720,000 acres). But due to decades of “harvesting” for electricity production, household fuel and compost, only 18,000 hectares (43,200 acres) still remain – amounting to half of all the surviving raised bogs in Europe.

Spending a day hiking on squishy bogs is the nearest thing to walking on water, enthusiasts say. “It is like being on a giant water bed,” as Dr Peter Foss, co-founder of the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, once said. Or to quote Seamus Heaney: “The ground itself is kind, black butter/Melting and opening underfoot”.

Like sponges, raised bogs soak up water in times of flooding and slowly release it during dry periods, thereby helping to regulate water systems. Conversely, cutting them up causes erosion of organic matter and this results in silting lakes and river beds, as has happened with Lough Derg on the Shannon system.

The habitat value of raised bogs arises from their rich diversity of flora such as bog-rosemary, cranberry, lichens and sundews, all of which thrive in the sphagnum mosses.

They also support a wide variety of fauna, including otter, hare, merlin, grouse, snipe and curlew, as well as dragonflies, frogs and spiders.

Scientific surveys carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the late-1990s resulted in the designation of a mere 139 of the 1,500-plus raised bogs in Ireland either as SACs or natural heritage areas (NHAs), to be protected under domestic legislation. All sites were then notified to the European Commission.

Even so, the government was unwilling to step on the toes of turf-cutters and successfully sought a derogation from implementing the strict terms of the habitats directive. But this period of grace expired in 2008 and, since then, it became imperative to take action to protect peatland sites designated as SACs.

It was not until May 2010 that then minister for the environment John Gormley finally banned turf-cutting on 31 raised bogs, amid an outcry from farming interests and a declaration of defiance by Luke “Ming” Flanagan, PRO of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association and newly elected Independent TD for Roscommon.

But it’s not as if the damage is being done by men and boys using sleans to cut turf. As the National Parks and Wildlife Service has noted, increasing mechanisation in recent years, together with the use of contractors, “has made the exploitation of small to medium-size bogs economically profitable” for those with turbary rights.

With the traditional turf-cutting season due to open on Good Friday, the Government reaffirmed Gormley’s ban this week and announced a compensation package for turf-cutters. Under this scheme, each of them would be entitled to a payment of €1,000 per annum for 15 years or, alternatively, relocation to less sensitive sites.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who unveiled the package on Wednesday, had no alternative but to take action; they had been warned by the European Commission that Ireland would face tens of millions of euro in penalties plus fines of €20,000 per day if it didn’t protect the bogs.

Inevitably, vested interest farming organisations criticised the annuity payment as inadequate and said it should be doubled to €2,000 per annum “for the lifetime of the bog”, rather than just 15 years. Even at the lower figure on offer, the cost to the exchequer would be in the region of €20 million to cover all 55 raised bogs designated as SACs.

Set against that, however, is the value of these areas not just as increasingly rare wildlife habitats, but also as carbon sinks. Indeed, Friends of the Irish Environment – who have been extremely vigilant in campaigning for peatland protection – say the bogs are among our most important assets in offsetting carbon emissions.

In terms of global warming, “not only does burning the cut turf release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other fossil fuel, but the cutting process both dries out the bog, allowing the remaining peat to oxidise and release CO2, thereby also destroying the bogs effectiveness as a sink”, the group says.

Protecting the bogs is, therefore, very much in the public interest.

Frank McDonald is Environment Editor

Irish Times

Eirgrid says transfer of grid could save €40m a year

ELECTRICITY USERS could save an average of €40 million a year if ownership of the Republic’s national were transferred to Eirgrid, the company said yesterday.

The Government is committed to transferring ownership of the grid, which transmits electricity from power plants to the distribution network, from the ESB to Eirgrid, the State company which already manages it.

Yesterday, Eirgrid chairwoman Bernie Gray said experience in other countries that have taken similar steps has shown such a move generates big savings.

She estimated savings gained from the transfer would be €600 million over 15 years, an average of €40 million a year. These savings would ultimately be passed on to the businesses and households that use electricity.

The company said it had cut 20 per cent from the final estimated cost of planned reinvestment in the national grid.

Eirgrid plans to renew existing parts of the grid and add new elements to the network. Among other things this will prepare it to take increasing amounts of electricity generated by renewable methods such as wind power.

The original estimate of the cost of doing this was €4 billion. Chief executive Dermot Byrne said yesterday that the company now believed it could reduce that by €800 million to €3.2 billion.

He said the savings would be achieved through new technology, optimising existing resources and partly as a result of the recession.

The company plans to resubmit its application for planning for a new interconnection, running from Meath to Tyrone, in the second half of the year.

The discovery of a mistake in the original application last year halted a hearing into the proposal held by Bord Pleanála. Local people want the cables to be underground rather than on pylons.

Eirgrid manages the electricity grids North and South, and runs the single market for electricity through a subsidiary. Last year it made profits of €13.86 million on the back of a €443.7 million turnover.

The company is due to meet Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte today to discuss his plans for the wider sector.

Irish Times

Plans for sewage plant reinstated

PLANS FOR a new Dublin regional sewage treatment plant, second only in size to the Ringsend sewerage works, are to be reinstated six years after they were rejected by county councillors.

The plant, which will serve Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, will be located in the northern part of the greater Dublin region, but its exact location will not be determined until later this year.

In March 2005, Portrane in north Dublin was identified in the Greater Dublin Strategic Drainage Study as the preferred site for the new municipal sewage plant to satisfy the region’s growing needs.

In November that year, Fingal councillors voted to reject the plan and ordered that the drainage study, which had cost €10 million and involved intensive analysis over five years, be reviewed.

The review was completed in 2007. It found existing sewerage systems were not adequate to cope with demand and that a single regional sewage treatment plant was best. It recommended the plant still be located in the “northern greater Dublin area”, but not necessarily Portrane. However, it did not rule out Portrane.

Little progress was subsequently made. However, engineering firms Jacobs and Tobin Consulting have been appointed to assess potential sites and the process will be open to public consultation in coming months. RPS, which were consultants for the Ringsend sewage plant and the Poolbeg incinerator, will be overseeing the public consultation process.

Beaches in north Dublin have repeatedly failed EU water tests since the rejection by councillors of the Portrane plant. In 2009, nine of the State’s 131 bathing sites failed to meet minimum clean-water standards. Of these, one third were in Fingal.

Balbriggan front strand, Skerries south beach and Burrow beach in Sutton were all found to have excessive levels of faecal coli-forms in their waters.

Fingal county manager David O’Connor said the new plant was essential to future employment, social progress and economic growth in the region. There would be extensive public consultation on the plans, he added.

An application for the plant is expected to be made to An Bord Pleanála by 2013. The choice of any site in Fingal is likely to be met with strenuous opposition.

Irish Times

CSO says census to provide details on commuting patterns

THE CENTRAL Statistics Office has explained why a question about distance travelled to work or school – which had revealed the spread of “commuterland” in 2006 – was dropped from this year’s census form.

A spokesman said Census 2011 would “still capture this information” because one question on the form asked people for the name and address of their place of work, school or college. This would be “geocoded” with home addresses.

“Consequently, with the new information, we will be able to provide great detail on daily commuting patterns [ie distance travelled, mode of transport used, time taken and time leaving home],” the spokesman said.

Referring to a suggestion that there should have been a question on “happiness/well-being”, he said the content of the census form was decided by a process whereby the CSO invited submissions from the public and interested organisations.

“Subsequently, a census advisory group was formed in October 2008, comprising representatives from central and local government, research bodies, the universities, social partners and relevant CSO staff.” This group examined 91 submissions and decided which questions should be tested in a census pilot in April 2009, involving 11,400 households in 32 enumeration areas. It then made its recommendations.

A question on “happiness/well-being” was not recommended by the group. However, it did recommend the inclusion of the general health question in Census 2011, which was strongly advocated by the Department of Health.

The CSO said it would undertake a publicly advertised consultation on content in advance of the next census. “As yet the Government has not indicated the date of the next census, but the consultation usually takes place approximately three years in advance.”

Irish Times

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Residents seek action on Haulbowline clean-up

Ireland faces the prospect of being heavily fined by the European Commission over its failure to clean up the Haulbowline site near Cobh in Co Cork.

The Commission today warned that unless urgent action was taken, the case would go to the Court of Justice because of the State's systemic failure to deal with the problem.

Haulbowline used to be a centre of steel production, but is now a contaminated site filled with toxic by-products.

Residents have been promised a clean-up for over a decade and are now seeking action from the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament with political support.

Spokesperson Mary O'Leary said: 'We have had ten years of prosperity where money was available to tackle this problem, yet little was done.

'The fear of the community now is that the issue will be put on the back boiler for another ten years and we will have to live with the consequences.'

A spokesman for the Commission said he shared the residents' frustration and stated bluntly Brussels would take Ireland to the Court of Justice for fines unless action happened urgently.

The Commission said it will report back to the Petitions Committee within three months but expected action by Ireland before that time.

Green light for €80m retirement village after four-year wait

In March of 2007, the Kerry-based Master Group secured planning permission to transform the 18th Carnelly House estate into a retirement village. The plans included 95 houses, 40 apartments and a 64-bed continuing care facility and village facilities, including a spa with a 12 metre pool and a specially equipped gym, a shop, restaurant and bar.

The company initially got the go-ahead after an appeal was withdrawn.

In the aftermath of the withdrawal, managing director of Master Group Ray Kelliher confirmed construction of the first phase in July 2007 with the first houses and apartments being ready for occupation in mid-2008.

The company had hoped the construction phase would bring over €12 million in wages over a two-year period, and, on completion, a €40,000 per week spend for local shops and businesses.

However, in the intervening years, only preparatory work had taken place. The Master Group, through Stamer Ltd, has now lodged an application with Clare Co Council to extend the time in which to complete the development. The current planning permission is due to expire in March of next year.

Documents lodged show €1.4m has been spent on the project to date with €670,000 on planning fees and costs with €834,000 on preparatory costs.

The company has also confirmed construction work is due to commence on site in June and be complete by December 31, 2016.

The conditions attached to the current planning permission prompted the Master Group to state it would spend €120,000 on ensuring the welfare of 30 tiny bats on the site.

While investigating the site prior to seeking planning, the developers discovered that the site is a nationally important maternity roost for the rare and protected Lesser Horseshoe Bat.

As a result, the council concluded that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) lodged doesn’t satisfactorily assess the significance of the impact of the proposal on bats and asked the developers to put in place mitigation measures to protect the bats.

The spend on the bats will include the refurbishment of a coach-house building at Carnelly and the construction of a ‘flyover’ internal road.

Irish Times

Nowhere to park so Luas extension misses targets

A €300m Luas extension will fail to meet its passenger targets this year because it still has no park-and-ride facilities in place, six months after it opened.

And the Irish Independent has learned that it will be autumn at the earliest before any parking facilities come on stream for commuters on the Cherrywood extension to the Luas Green line in south Dublin.

Some 25,000 passenger journeys a week are being made on the 7km stretch of light rail from Sandyford to Cherrywood, according to new figures obtained from Luas operators the Rail Procurement Agency (RPA).

However, this is well short of the 40,000 journeys a week needed to reach the two million-passenger target set down for the first year of operation of the line which opened last October.

RPA spokesman Tom Manning said passenger uptake was being hampered by the lack of parking facilities, which were delayed by planning and contractual difficulties.

"It is absolutely a factor in limiting passenger numbers and we are very frustrated these park-and-ride facilities are not yet there, but we are doing our best to progress them," he said.


The RPA said the economic downturn had been a big factor in lower passenger use, and they were now aiming to have 1.8 million passenger journeys on the Luas extension in its first year, banking on a surge in passenger numbers in the summer.

And Mr Manning said the potential was seen in the 30pc increase in passenger numbers during the cold spell last December and January.

A 350-car facility at Carrickmines -- given the green light by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council -- has been delayed until a final agreement on the lease and contractual arrangements is reached with the private landowner, he said.

The council was also considering an application for a 200-place park-and-ride facility near the Cherrywood Terminus by developers Dunloe Ewart.

Another application from Park Developments for a 390-car facility on Ballyogan Road was also in the planning stages, and there was one further application for a 60-car park-and-ride facility close to that.

Mark Gleeson, of Rail Users Ireland, said it was disgraceful that major pieces of infrastructure were put in place without the facilities needed to use them to their full capacity.

"It's a disgrace that six months on there's still no park and rides, and these Luas carriage just empty out everywhere west of Leopardstown because there's nowhere for passengers to park," he said.

Mr Gleeson said the RPA should issue compulsory purchase orders on the land for park and rides and develop them themselves because, while working with private landowners might seem cheaper, facilities ended up getting bogged down in legal disputes.

He welcomed the fact that the council had cut planning levies on park-and-ride facilities to speed up their provision.

Aideen Sheehan
Irish Independent

An Irish starchitect: the iconic buildings that have made Kevin Roche's reputation

Kevin Roche went to the United States in the 1940s for a short trip, but the Irishman stayed and ended up shaping the architectural identity of the country, writes FRANK McDONALD , Environment Editor

WHEN KEVIN ROCHE went to the US embassy in Dublin as a young architect in 1948 he just wanted a visitor’s visa. “I really had no intention of staying in the US, but the fellow behind the counter asked if I wanted a green card. ‘Why don’t you take one anyway? I’ve got lots of them,’ he said. So I took it, and then one thing led to another.”

Roche, who will be 89 in June, went on to become the favourite architect of corporate America, designing huge headquarters – megastructures in the woods of New York’s hinterland – for the likes of General Foods and Union Carbide.

Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, aka KRJDA, did great work over the years, notably the much-loved Ford Foundation in New York, which was the first office block with a plant-filled atrium, and a series of glazed extensions to the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the remarkable Temple of Dendur pavilion.

Roche still works five days a week at the firm’s offices in Hamden, Connecticut. And now, just down the road in New Haven, Yale University’s school of architecture is hosting a retrospective exhibition, Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment, to celebrate his achievements, including Convention Centre Dublin.

During a recent symposium that I attended at the university, his work is respectfully dissected by a slew of academics. It must be like having an out-of-body experience. “You can say that again,” he says. “It seems as if I died about 20 years ago and didn’t know it” – a reference to the fact the discussions ignored most of his recent projects.

On the previous evening, in a public interview with the Los Angeles Times architecture correspondent Christopher Hawthorne, Roche talked about spending a year at the Illinois Institute of Technology under the rigorous modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and how he subsequently got a job working for the influential Eero Saarinen.

Mies, a German emigre, had “an extraordinary presence”, he said, “like as if you were in the presence of God”. When Mies asked Roche and other master’s degree students to design a house, Roche was the only one to use a pitched roof. Mies was not pleased: “He said, ‘You can do that, but I would not do that, you know.’ ”

After hearing “less is more” rather too often, Roche left Illinois IT and applied for a job with the more eclectic Eero Saarinen. He had been out all night in New York with an actor cousin on an MGM expense account and fell asleep sitting on Saarinen’s bed during the early-morning interview in his hotel room, as the Finnish-American architect droned on.

Despite this, Roche got the job, eventually becoming head of design. And after Saarinen died suddenly, in 1961, he and his colleague John Dinkeloo completed such major projects as the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri; the CBS headquarters in New York; the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport; and Dulles International Airport in Washington.

Most amazing of all was the IBM pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, which showcased the best of American technology. A virtual forest of steel “trees” held aloft a large ovoid into which a 500-seat grandstand was hydraulically whooshed into a multiscreen cinema with a dazzling display of how these newfangled computers worked.

Roche and Dinkeloo set up their practice in 1966, winning a competition to design the Oakland Museum in California. A masterful marriage of building and landscape, like a modernist Hanging Gardens of Babylon, it was completed in 1968 at a time of social protest; Roche says the unusual design aimed to “create a sense of community”.

KRJDA’S CORPORATE WORK had similar aspirations. For Roche, working nine to five, sitting all day in an office, “must be mind-destroying”, so he always sought to find ways to relieve the tedium by giving employees views of the surrounding forest or even (at Union Carbide) letting them choose from 14 designs for office fit-outs.

Roche also embraced the American car culture. As the highway programme was rolled out in the 1950s and 1960s, he was fascinated by its enormous engineering structures. This found expression in the New Haven Coliseum, a concrete and Cor-Ten steel stadium with four floors of car parking on its roof. It became decrepit and was demolished in 2007.

Alongside it, and still standing, is KRJDA’s towering headquarters for the Knights of Columbus, a forbidding fortress with four cylindrical corner towers from which most of its 23 floors are suspended. Vincent Scully, a professor emeritus of the history of art in architecture at Yale, described it as an example of “paramilitary dandyism”, while Sam Stephenson borrowed its structural system for the Central Bank in Dublin.

This unlikely home for the leading lay Catholic organisation in the US practically sits astride the Oak Street interconnector, which links New Haven with two interstate highways on the edge of town. It was intended to be seen from passing cars; Christopher Hawthorne described it as an appropriate “gateway for the automobile age”.

All Roche’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut were designed around cars. Richardson Vicks, on a wooded site in Wilton, consists of two long floors of offices sandwiched between basement and rooftop car parking. Completed in 1974, it was an early example of “corporate America’s flight to the suburbs”, according to Hawthorne.

The former Union Carbide headquarters in Danbury is equally car-oriented but on a much larger scale. It has almost 100,000sq m of offices arranged in pods on either side of a vast multistorey car park. Huge ramps, some as big as runways, give access to every level so staff can park cars within yards of where they work.

Union Carbide was taken over by Dow Chemical not long after the Bhopal disaster, in 1984. The company’s former headquarters, which reputedly cost nearly $400 million to build in 1980, was snapped up by the Matrix real-estate group in 2009 for $73 million, and the office space is now being crudely subdivided for letting.

This “Spaceship Galactica”, as the New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger put it, is raised on 5,000 columns, with corridors more than 400m long. Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, the associate professor at Yale’s school of architecture who co-ordinated the Roche exhibition, describes it as “the most extreme example of a new paradigm of corporate design, only visible from the air”.

I much prefer the serenity of Roche Dinkeloo’s Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in the Connecticut town of Middletown. Nine low-rise buildings in stone and concrete, laid out on a grid around specimen trees, include the wonderful Crowell Concert Hall, flooded with light from large windows and its original 1973 green-upholstered seats.

Roche says KRJDA was probably the first architectural practice to use a slide projector to communicate ideas to clients. “People don’t understand architectural drawings, so you have to be able to explain things in terms that they will understand. The visuals need to be good, and our presentations were always successful,” he said at the symposium.

Computers have “complicated our lives enormously” and were a “terrible curse” for architects because they could provide so many options, “Bang, bang, bang!” Roche was keen on finding new solutions, based on a deep study of clients’ requirements, and bore in mind Saarinen’s dictum always to think about the next big thing.

Roche, who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1982, a year after Dinkeloo died, and who was the architect of huge corporate headquarters and soaring skyscrapers such as One UN Plaza in New York, remains a modest man. He told the Yale symposium how his mother, one of a family of 12, had been reared in a “mud hut with a thatched roof” and central stone chimney – a “platinum green” building in its own way, as he said. It’s a long way from there to Roche’s Banco Santander headquarters outside Madrid, the biggest financial campus in Europe.

Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment continues at Yale School of Architecture until May 6th. It will travel to New York, Montreal, Toronto and other cities in North America. Efforts are being made to bring it to Dublin

Irish Times

Planning career changes

WHOEVER is tasked with selecting the new chairman of An Bord Pleanála can expect to be inundated with dusted-off CVs this week ahead of Friday’s deadline to apply for the role.

Incumbent John O’Connor is due to retire in June and an open competition will be held to select his replacement. Given the collapse in demand for planners from the private sector, Around the Block expects some of the sector’s heavy hitters to apply for the role, especially given that many have kept their town-planning sections open in name only, quietly letting all of the staff go while maintaining the illusion that it is still part of their organisation.

Total pay for the post is currently just over €206,000 per annum but that is under review “and may be subject to downward revision prior to appointment”, the booklet for the job states – and there won’t be any overtime. The maximum period of service is seven years.

The board currently receives a public subvention of €12.8m with a further €3.9m expected to come from fee income this year.

Its case load has decreased dramatically with the bursting of the bubble – more than 5,500 cases came before it in 2008 but that fell nearly 50 per cent to 2,900 in 2009 – but it still has to deal with strategic infrastructure applications, such as Metro North and the Dart interconnector in Dublin.

Irish Times

Lahinch toilets site gets go-ahead

THE LOO in Lahinch with the €400,000 sea view is set to be demolished after An Bord Pleanála yesterday gave the go-ahead to make way for a mixed-use development.

In giving the go-ahead to John and Breeda Galvin to demolish the toilets on Lahinch’s prom and replace them with two retail units and two apartments, the board said the proposed development would not seriously injure the amenities of the area nor of property in the vicinity.

The board ruled the plan would be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

At a public auction in Ennis in June 2008 Mr Galvin paid Clare County Council €400,000 for the property “with unrivalled and unparalleled sea views”. Asked at the auction was he happy with the price, Mr Galvin said: “I would be happy if I got it for cheaper, but that’s the way it goes.”

In giving the plan the go-ahead, the appeals board dismissed appeals lodged by Lahinch Community Council and John Logan against the county council’s decision to give the project the go- ahead.

The inspector in the case concluded the public promenade would be generally improved by the proposed development.

In the community council’s appeal, chairman Donogh O’Loghlin said granting planning permission, “especially in the current economic climate, promotes and further adds to the ‘ghost town’ winter image of Lahinch”.

Irish Times

First port of call for capital

FRIDAY INTERVIEW: Eamonn O'Reilly, chief executive, Dublin Port

IT MIGHT not be the sexiest job title in the world, but being the boss of Dublin Port offers a prime view of our capital city. From Eamonn O’Reilly’s fourth-floor office in Port Centre on Alexandra Road, the new Aviva Stadium can be seen in all its glory, with the Wicklow mountains providing the backdrop.

To the right is the O2 concert venue and Harry Crosbie’s big wheel, while the ESB chimney stacks at Poolbeg frame the view to the left.

“It’s magnificent . . . wait until you see this,” O’Reilly says, before eagerly opening the blinds to reveal the view across the port from the other side of his office.

It’s mostly cranes and gigantic oil tanks, but it’s impressive none the less.

It’s a definite perk of the job and must have been distracting as he was doodling a new master plan for Dublin Port in recent months.

Launched this week, its aim is to chart the development of Dublin Port out to 2040 to allow for a doubling of trade volumes.

This might sound like a hare-brained scheme to some, given the depressed nature of the economy at present, and the fact that no-one – other than the IMF and European Commission – wants to lend us a brass farthing at present. But with Irish exports thriving in the recession, O’Reilly is one of the few chief executives in the country operating in a growth industry.

The master plan is framed around the assumption that trade will grow to 60 million tonnes by 2040. This would be roughly twice the level of today and imply an average annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent.

“We think it entirely likely that it will at least double over the next 30 years,” O’Reilly says matter-of-factly.

If anything, this forecast might be too conservative. The volume of trade put through Dublin Port last year rose by 6.1 per cent to 28.9 million tonnes. Roughly three-quarters of that growth was exports.

While its below the 2007 peak of 30.9 tonnes, it marked a turnaround for the port business after a couple of tough years affected by the recession.

Encouragingly, this trend has continued into 2011, with volumes rising by about 6 per cent in the first two months of this year.

So the 30-year vision of growth could be on the low side. Then again, given our experience of the Celtic Tiger years, it’s probably no harm to err on the side of caution.

“Last year’s growth [in trade] suggests to me that we need to get our planning caps on and get a solid and robust master plan in place,” O’Reilly says.

If past experience is anything to go by, getting the green light to expand the port will be far from plain sailing for O’Reilly.

A plan promoted by O’Reilly’s predecessor Enda Connellan that involved the reclamation of 21 hectares of Dublin Bay was finally rejected by An Bord Pleanála last year.

“We ticked nearly every box,” O’Reilly says without flinching.

“We do live in a democracy and there were alternative arguments. The only issue we didn’t succeed on was relating to birds.

“That was a scientific issue and we didn’t get over that hurdle.”

O’Reilly’s iteration is somewhat more ambitious. It would involve reclaiming between 31 and 40 hectares of the sea to expand its existing 260-acre footprint.

There will also be an intensification of freight and cargo activity in certain parts of the port and a new berth closer to the city for cruise liners, which bring about 130,000 visitors to the capital each year.

Reclaiming land is always a contentious issue with environmental and conservation groups and plans to relocate a tern colony will no doubt spark a robust debate.

Local residents will also be nervous about the impact an expansion might have on their daily lives.

On the latter point, O’Reilly stresses that the plan is currently at the consultation stage and Dublin Port will fully engage will the local community on the issues involved before producing a final proposal, probably in November.

“Ports are utilitarian by their nature. They tend to be a wee bit grey.

“The interface from East Wall Road, for example, is not particularly attractive. It’s a dirty old wall. But we are working very hard on that.

“We do have to soften the edges of the port and we have to integrate it better.”

As regards reclaiming parts of Dublin Bay, O’Reilly insists there is no alternative.

“There’s no project that I know of for port expansion that doesn’t involve reclamation,” he explains.

“All of the 260 hectares here is reclaimed. There are even swathes of Trinity College’s campus that are reclaimed land.”

“If we approach our challenge of expanding the port in a different way to the way we did it in the past, I think we can get over the planning hurdles.”

Some might argue that there’s no need to expand Dublin Port, especially when there is a proposal – from Drogheda Port Company and an associate of Treasury Holdings – for a new port up the coast at Bremore.

“We’re running Dublin Port and we’re more than happy and confident that the customers who use this port want to continue to use this port.

“That’s where trade wants to come through. Dublin is the right location,” he says, referencing an Indecon report from 2009 commissioned by the Department of Transport.

“Of all the options they looked at, the one with the best net present value was the maintenance of Dublin Port. And they advised that nothing should be done at a policy level to restrict the growth or expansion of Dublin Port.”

Financing the project will be another kettle of fish.

O’Reilly won’t say how much the expansion plan will cost. But he is adamant that Dublin Port Company won’t have any problem raising the money, despite the fact that most finance house wouldn’t touch Ireland with a barge pole at the moment.

It has debts of €30 million – less than one times its Ebitda – and already spent €280 million upgrading the port since 1997.

“If we had a project today could we get funding? I actually think we could because Dublin Port is a very solid story from an investment point of view for a banker,” he says confidently.

“We’ve a solid track record. We’ve had Irish and foreign banks in here to talk to us, I’d say about every three weeks and we’re not inviting them in. They are coming to talk to us. Solid utilities, ports in particular, are a very good play.”

O’Reilly comes from an engineering and management consultancy background but has been working at the port in one capacity or another since 1988.

He took the reins at Dublin Port last August, after several years working with the Doyle shipping group.

Dublin Port’s 2010 results haven’t been published yet but it has annual revenues of about €65 million and its Ebitda in 2009 amounted to €32 million.

“We had a good year,” O’Reilly said, adding that its Ebitda increased in 2010.

It also coughed up a €5.5 million dividend to the Government.

What odds, then that economist Colm McCarthy might put Dublin Port Company near the top of his list of State assets that could be sold off to raise cash for the exchequer?

O’Reilly has met McCarthy and made a submission stating that it is an important strategic asset that should be retained in State ownership.

He argues that Dublin Port is already effectively privatised, given that the various terminals there compete with each other for trade.

Dublin Port is akin to a management company in an apartment block.

So why not sell it? Especially as some believe the price tag could be more than €400 million.

After a long pause, O’Reilly offered this view: “We think that the investment decisions that need to be made will be made in a more timely way by a public-sector owner than by a private-sector owner.

“If this place was bought, the first thing they [a new owner] would look to do is get a return on that investment.

“They would wait until there’s a queue of trucks from here to Belfast before investing in new infrastructure.

“That’s what I would do if I was running it. But is that necessarily the best for the country?”

Colm McCarthy will provide the answer to that question.


Name: Eamonn O’Reilly

Job: Chief executive, Dublin Port Company

Age : 52

Family: Wife and four children

Hobbies: “I’m a keen Leinster fan.”

Something we might expect : “I took the ferry last April to the UK and took the motorbike up to the Highlands in Scotland. It was fantastic. The year before I went over to London and down to Biarritz. So I do use the ferries. Ferries are fantastic.”

Something that might surprise: He only took to motorbikes in 2001, buying a scooter. “I came to it late and went for a big bike as soon as possible. It’s a 1200cc mid-life crisis.”

Irish Times

Rabbitte says gas project to continue despite incident

MINISTER FOR Energy Pat Rabbitte has said the taped remarks made by gardaí about a female Corrib gas protester are “completely unacceptable”, but work will continue on the Corrib gas project in north Mayo.

However, he said he was open to anything that “encourages better communication” in relation to the controversial project.

Mr Rabbitte told The Irish Times yesterday that the particular remarks recorded in a patrol car on March 31st last were “stupid and unacceptable”. In the taped conversation, recorded on a video camera confiscated from one protester that was still switched on, two gardaí discussed the identity of two women from the Rossport Solidarity Camp whom they arrested on a public road near the Shell pipeline works at Aughoose some minutes earlier.

When one garda, surmised that one of the women “sounds like a Yank or Canadian”, another garda said: “Well, whoever, we’ll get Immigration f***ing on her.” The two gardaí then joked about threatening to deport and rape the woman if she did not give her name and address to them. The two women were travelling in separate vehicles to Belmullet Garda station, and only discovered the recording when the camera was returned to them on their release without charge.

One of the two women, postgraduate student Jerrie Ann Sullivan, has said she believes the experience is “not unique” in north Mayo. The second woman has not made any public comment.

The Garda Commissioner has issued an apology for the incident, five gardaí have been assigned to office duties in Castlebar, and an internal investigation has been forwarded to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission for its own inquiry into the incident in the public interest.

A separate taped conversation made public this week where an officer allegedly made sexually derogatory remarks about the wife of a Corrib protester in 2006 prompted renewed calls this week for a review of Garda and private security policing at Corrib.

The Friends of the Earth and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said yesterday they had sent a joint letter to Garda ombudsman chair Dermot Gallagher, requesting a “root and branch” review of Garda practices, policies and procedures on public order.

Mr Rabbitte said he did not see any connection with the incident and the Corrib gas project.

“The gardaí have been put in a difficult situation and, yes, it is very expensive for the taxpayer, but I do not believe this particular incident that is of concern is typical of the gardaí,” he said.

“What has happened has happened in relation to Corrib, and whatever one’s view the terminal is built,” he said. “What am I supposed to do when so much investment has gone in, and when there is the extraordinary decision to built a tunnel under [Sruwaddacon] bay?”

He said he had not talked to Shell EP Ireland since taking office, though he had met them in opposition some years ago. He was aware of the judicial review application taken by An Taisce and several residents, which seeks to challenge An Bord Pleanála’s approval of the Sruwaddacon estuary pipeline route on grounds that it is through a special area of conservation and in breach of EU directives.

A date has been set for a full hearing in the Commercial Court on October 5th. Mr Rabbitte said he had no letter from the company about their intentions in this regard, but it was his understanding work would continue.

Shell has said that it is involved in preparatory works.

Irish Times

Council seeks green light to use river water

THE PLAN to abstract water from the river Sheen to supplement Kenmare’s water supply represented the first major upgrade of the supply “in over 80 years”, an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála into the proposal was told yesterday.

The hearing, attended by more than 80 locals and experts at the Kenmare Bay Hotel, was told of the rapid growth experienced by the Co Kerry town in recent years.

The town grew so fast in the three years to 2005 that it reached house numbers predicted for 2021 almost two decades ahead of schedule, the hearing was told.

Kerry County Council is seeking an order under the Water Supplies Act to supplement current abstraction from Lough Eirk with additional water from a new source adjacent to Sheen Falls, southwest of the town.

However, there is strong opposition among farmers upriver at Bonane, who fear their lands will be sterilised. Anglers, too, are opposed because the Sheen is an important salmon and sea trout river, while the town’s chamber of commerce feels it would be more cost-effective to augment the current water sources.

They also dispute the claimed amount of water needed, given the decline in building in Kenmare.

Maura Joy, senior executive engineer with the county council, said the Kenmare water scheme was largely put place in 1928. The main source was a small corrie lake, Lough Eirk, alongside the Moll’s Gap tourist spot.

The water was taken from a stream into the lake and then flowed by gravity into a reservoir.

“The only form of treatment the water currently receives is the addition of chlorine as a disinfectant against bacteriological contamination,” Ms Joy said.

This did not meet the drinking water standards and was a cause of concern, Ms Joy said. A number of other schemes from outlying towns – Kilgarvan and Templenoe and Dawros – were used to supplement the Kenmare supply and two of these did not have treatment, Ms Joy outlined.

Some 2,000 cubic metres a day was the maximum available currently. This was not enough long term and Kenmare needed 4,500 cubic metres, the council felt.

The council had been attempting to resolve the Kenmare supply since 2001, she said. A €4 million upgrade of the network had been carried out but a €5 million water treatment plant is still needed.

However, the Department of the Environment was reluctant to approve the treatment plant contract until the supplementary source had been agreed, she told the meeting.

The proposal to abstract 2,500 cubic metres of water from the Sheen river will involve pumping water from the river and this combined with Lough Eirk and the Dawros option would cost €2.7 million. The water would not be taken during the dry season.

Other options including using mountain lakes could cost three times this, and would run into planning difficulties with wildlife legislation, the meeting heard.

The hearing, under chairman Danny O’Connor, continues today with contributions from those opposing.

Irish Times

Further assessment needed if plans for Greystones harbour changed

MOVES BY Wicklow County Council to amend its planning permission for the €300 million Greystones Harbour redevelopment will require a new environmental impact statement, An Bord Pleanála has ruled.

This is the second time An Bord Pleanála has told the council and its private sector partner, the Sispar consortium, that an environmental impact statement (EIS) is necessary to assess proposed changes.

Work on the marine elements of the harbour are substantially finished, but provision of five club houses for harbour users, a marina, a new town square, a public park and housing are now dependent on Nama which has taken over responsibility for loans associated with the project. The changes proposed by the council and Sispar would see the number of new homes in the scheme increase by 34, to 375, while the commercial space in the development would rise to 6,245sq m.

The council and Sispar have said the additional apartments and commercial space are necessary given changed market conditions since the scheme began in 2007.

It had been hoped that hoardings which have been in place for almost three years could start to come down late next year.

More than €80 million has been invested in the project, principally in a new harbour, which includes space for a 230-berth marina.

The changes the council was seeking were made under part eight of the Planning and Development Act which provides for public consultation but does not provide for an appeal.

However, the effect of An Bord Pleanála’s direction that an EIS is necessary now looks set to delay the project further. A spokesman for the consortium said the decision was being studied. He added the consortium remained committed to the project.

Irish Times

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

No return to bad old days, but planning decisions best left to local government

OPINION: I WAS surprised and disappointed with the tone and content of the article in Thursday’s Irish Times by Frank McDonald (“Minister risks returning to bad old days of planning”) regarding the Government’s and my own intentions in respect of introducing further improvements to the planning system with a view to making it more accountable, more transparent and more effective.

This journalist has neither sought a meeting with me nor attempted to understand my views and objectives in respect of my new ministerial responsibilities, so I consider his views presumptuous.

It is a matter for the Taoiseach to decide who is assigned responsibility for the various departments and I am honoured to serve in Enda Kenny’s Government in whatever manner will best benefit the citizens of this country.

The Government has made no secret of its intention to strengthen local government by, for example:

Moving many of the functions being performed by agencies, such as community employment and enterprise supports back to local government;

Introducing a shared services approach across local authorities in the delivery of key services such as technology support, human resources and fire services;

Reforming local governance structures to allow for devolution of much greater decision-making to local people in areas such as economic development and local healthcare needs.

McDonald has been selective in critiquing the Government’s planning policy. Insofar as planning is concerned, our very first commitment in the programme for government is to seek to better co-ordinate national, regional and local planning laws to achieve better and more co-ordinated development that supports local communities instead of the previous system that favoured developer-led planning.

It is surprising that McDonald’s piece fails to mention this or the other key changes we are proposing, for example, making local transport initiatives an integral part of local development plans. This Government wants development activity to happen in the right place and at the right time and is determined to move away from the inherent failings and problems arising from Ireland’s previous developer-led planning system.

We can see the results of such a system everywhere – unfinished estates, inappropriate zoning and a lack of joined-up thinking between central and local government and between the public and private sectors.

Mismanagement of property development and planning, enabled by failures in banking, has damaged our country and its reputation. Learning from these failures and continuing the reform process is a priority for myself and Minister Willie Penrose.

A pillar of the programme for government is the need to introduce reforms that will enhance the role of citizens and community representatives in decision-making and in policy formation on a collective basis.

To clear up any misgivings that McDonald might have, this Government intends to build upon the many planning reforms introduced in the 2010 Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, integrating planning policy across the various levels and embedding environmental considerations into the very core of decisions on plans and permissions for development.

Local authorities around the country, including Fine Gael controlled councils, are working hard in reviewing their plans to incorporate new strategies.

I believe that decisions affecting local people are best made locally, with the support of the centre, recognising local situations but also working to achieve regional and national planning objectives.

This collaborative approach will benefit the locality, regions and the country in social, economic and environmental terms – the essence of sustainability.

Building on recent key reforms, I therefore want to ensure that my role as Minister is one that enables the process of continuing reform from within the planning system and through greater consultation and transparency rather than controlling the process from above.

In further developing specific objectives to deliver on these commitments, I hope to have the opportunity in the future to outline my views and policies to journalists like McDonald so that there is no further misunderstanding of Government policy in this area.

Phil Hogan is Minister for the Environment.

Irish Times

Dún Laoghaire golf club site to be torn down

DEMOLITION OF the old Dún Laoghaire Golf Club pavilion, which dates from 1910, has been approved as part of the next phase of housing development on the former course.

An Bord Pleanála has given consent to the plan, officially known as Phase II B, to Cosgrave developments for some 55,201sq m of housing, comprising about 384 new homes.

Work is already under way on much of the former golf course, which was bisected by the Glenageary Road. Close to 1,500 homes are planned for the 78-acre site. Also included are offices, retail units, as well as an eight-acre park with a lake.

Cosgrave Developments bought the golf club site for €20 million, plus a 27-hole course at Ballyman Glen near Enniskerry, from the club’s members in 2002.

Development of Phase II B refers to the northern portion of the old course on the northern side of Glenageary road. It is overlooked by Victorian houses on Eglinton Park and White Lodge, the Turkish consulate. To the northeast, the original demesne house Lodge Park is still standing and occupied.

Planning permission has already been granted for 605 new homes on Phase II A, another parcel of the former golf course beside the current site. However, this is subject to a judicial review.

The recent decision in relation to Phase II B was appealed by local resident John Ross of Highthorn Wood, as well as Cosgrave developments itself, which took issue with some €8 million charged by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in levies and a bond.

The club dates from 1909, when 51 residents of Kingstown and the surrounding district gathered in the Royal Marine Hotel on December 9th to attend the inaugural meeting of the golf club.

Irish Times

Rights monitors observe policing of Corrib row

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL and the Front Line human rights defenders organisation have sent a joint reconnaissance group to north Mayo to observe the policing of the Corrib gas dispute.

The two organisations have not initiated formal monitoring as yet, although protests are planned today over initiation of preparatory work to lay the approved Corrib gas pipeline up the Sruwaddacon estuary special area of conservation.

Shell to Sea and the Rossport Solidarity Camp have asked why work has started when a judicial review application of An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve the pipeline route is still before the courts. The pipeline laying, including tunnelling, is expected to take two years and has been given consents by former acting energy minister Pat Carey (FF) and Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

Amnesty International and Front Line agreed to work together on human rights monitoring last year in discussions with former energy minister Eamon Ryan.

Mr Ryan had welcomed the publication of Front Line’s report by barrister Brian Barrington last April, which recommended that a human rights observer be appointed in the event that planning permission for the pipeline was given along a contested route.

Mr Barrington’s report also recommended that the Garda would co-operate with monitoring and that it should appoint a trained lawyer with relevant experience in human rights advice to review Garda policies and practices and assist with planning.

Irish Times

Court agrees to fast-track challenges to Corrib decision

THE COMMERCIAL Court has agreed to fast-track separate legal challenges by An Taisce and two local residents aimed at quashing a consent permission by An Bord Pleanála for an onshore pipeline linked to the Corrib gas field in Co Mayo.

An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith said the deliberations of the board, when granting the consent last January, were not transparent and the board had failed to properly record its decision. An Taisce had inspected An Bord Pleanála’s file and there were “glaring omissions”, he said in an affidavit.

An Taisce was not opposed to exploitation of the Corrib gas field but was very concerned at how this latest consent had been obtained and about the manner in which the project was being split into several parts, with each part requiring its own consent, Mr Stanley-Smith added.

This approach was giving rise to “a poor standard of decision-making” and an absence of strategic and holistic environmental assessment. European law required such a project to be properly screened and assessed as a whole.

He said the planning board did not carry out an appropriate assessment and there was no reference in its decision to any conservation objectives.

The board also appeared to have differed from its own inspectors who determined the proposed development would be likely to have a significant effect on European habitat sites and should be subject to appropriate assessment.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly transferred both actions to the Commercial Court yesterday, made directions for the exchange of legal documents and directed the cases would be heard together beginning on October 4th.

When James Devlin SC, for An Taisce, expressed concern about some preliminary works being carried out for the pipeline, Declan McGrath, for Shell EP Ireland, said these were exempt development and there was no need for any injunction application to be brought pending the October hearing.

When Mr Justice Kelly told Mr Devlin that Mr McGrath’s remarks should provide him with “some comfort”, Mr Devlin replied: “Not necessarily.”

However, both he and Michael O’Donnell, for local residents Peter Sweetman and Monica Muller, indicated they were not seeking to bring any injunction applications at this point.

An Taisce, the national trust for Ireland, and Ms Muller and Mr Sweetman, Rossport South, Ballina, Co Mayo – who own land 500 metres south of the proposed pipeline – have advanced a large number of grounds in support of their challenges but they have been directed to narrow these down.

They want orders quashing the board’s decision of January 19th last granting permission to Shell EP Ireland to construct 8.3km of pipeline between the Corrib gas field and the gas terminal at Bellanaboy.

In both cases, it is claimed the pipeline consent granted by the board breaches provisions of the European environmental impact assessment directive.

It is also claimed that the State had failed to properly implement that directive here.

It is alleged that the board, in its assessment of the Shell planning application, was required but failed to carry out an appropriate assessment in relation to the impact of the development on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Both sets of proceedings are against An Bord Pleanála, the Minister for the Environment, Ireland and the Attorney General with Shell EP Ireland a notice party. Mayo County Council is also a notice party in An Taisce’s action but intends to play no active part in the case as no orders are sought against it.

The cases are brought via applications for leave for judicial review. Mr Justice Kelly has directed that the leave applications will be heard in tandem with the substantive judicial reviews.

He also directed that the claims for orders quashing the permission and related to the environmental impact assessment directive will be determined first.

Depending on the outcome of those claims, the court may then proceed to decide arguments that section 50b of the Planning and Development Act, which abolishes legal costs orders in decisions covered by the directive except in “exceptional circumstances”, is unconstitutional and contrary to European law.

Irish Times

Details of new Dublin 'urban quarter' and campus

THE BLUEPRINT for a €486 million development of a new “urban quarter” and campus for the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) at Grangegorman will be submitted to Dublin City Council within weeks.

Councillors were last night presented with details of the planning scheme which will act as a framework for all future applications for development on the 70-acre former psychiatric hospital site between the north-city neighbourhoods of Phibsboro, Stoneybatter and Cabra.

Once approved, the scheme could allow for the construction of buildings of up to 50m in height.

Applications which adhere to the scheme can be granted directly by the council, and cannot be subject to objections or appeals.

The linchpin of the site is a consolidated campus for 22 of the 27 DIT schools currently housed in 39 locations around the city.

With a 20,000-strong student body the new campus will cater for about 10 per cent of all students in higher education in Ireland.

The site would also accommodate purpose-built mental health facilities and a primary school run by Educate Together for 400 pupils, as well as a high proportion of open amenity and recreational space accessible to the local community.

Some 450 full-time construction jobs will be created for a 10-year period during the development of the site.

In addition, more than 1,100 full-time jobs are promised on completion of the works.

Plans for the site were first announced almost a decade ago. At the time it was thought much of the project could be funded by selling off DIT colleges, but the downturn in property prices means more initial funding will come from the exchequer.

Government approval for the scheme was granted last September, and the new programme for government supports its development “as resources permit”.

The Grangegorman Development Agency last night told councillors that it intended to put the planning scheme on public display this month.

The scheme will be put to councillors again, probably in July, and could then be adopted if there are no objections.

However, the scheme could be subject to an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, a likely scenario as local residents’ organisations have raised concerns in relation to the possibility of tall buildings being constructed on the site.

The new Dublin City Development Plan would allow the construction of buildings of up to 50m at Grangegorman, pending the ratification of the planning scheme which would give the site strategic development zone (SDZ) designation.

The site has a long history of institutional use going back to the 1700s as a mental asylum and a prison. Most recently it served as a home for St Brendan’s hospital under the ownership of the HSE.

Irish Times

Council may use satellites to fight illegal dumps

WASTE enforcement officers working for Cork County Council may use European Space Agency (ESA) satellites to identify illegal dumps.
The council has submitted proposals to the ESA to use its satellites to add to its current use of helicopters for aerial reconnaissance and covert cameras which are placed at known illegal dumping blackspots.
More than 150 illegal scrapyards have been closed down by the enforcement team in the past four years, according to information released by the local authority's waste enforcement department.
Despite the considerable size of County Cork - 7,454 km² - the small team of dedicated professionals have had a remarkable amount of success.
The enforcement team consists of seven professional staff, three engineers and two scientists, supported by two administrative staff. They sift through approximately 1,000 complaints from the public each year.
During their most recent raids on unauthorised sites the department - in co-operation with other agencies including the Garda and Department of Social Welfare - seized three truckloads of scrap from Charleville.
The raid, a little over a week ago, also resulted in gardaí seizing a number of weapons, including slashhooks, meat cleavers and baseball bats studded with nails.
A spokesman for the county council said the waste enforcement team contracts a private helicopter operator on a number of occasions annually, to undertake aerial surveillance operations.
However, the spokesman said for "operational reasons" he wouldn't reveal the number of flights mounted each year.
But he said the strategy has proven very successful in targeting forbidden waste activities, and, in particular, illegal scrapped car sites.
Normally the helicopter pilot, accompanied by two waste enforcement officers, operates a three-hour flight on each occasion and visits predetermined sites selected as potential targets through intelligence-gathering.
These surveillance operations were the subject of one episode of the television series Enforcers, broadcast on RTÉ last year.
In addition, the waste enforcement team is using covert cameras at a number of "dumping blackspot sites".
Its first successful prosecution in the courts using covert camera footage was taken two years ago when three defendants were fined €1,000 each for illegal dumping in Mitchelstown.
There are 17 Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) for scrap recovery in the county and a further five dedicated solely to scrapping old cars.
While trying to clean up the environment, the enforcement team's role is also to create "a level playing pitch" so that authorised dealers are not undercut and threatened with closure due to the activities of illegal cowboy operators.

Irish Examiner