Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Priory Hall debacle shows need for decisive action

Ireland needs to abandon ‘light touch’ regulation of the building industry and follow best practice

THE EVACUATION of residents of Priory Hall in Donaghmede, Dublin, following the discovery of serious building deficiencies causing a fire hazard, has brought into sharp focus major inadequacies in Ireland’s building regulatory environment.

While the evacuation is traumatic and will cause significant financial problems for residents, shortcomings in the building control enforcement system are so serious that they could have been exposed to an even greater tragedy involving loss of life.

Recently at the Society of Chartered Surveyors annual conference, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said: “The fact that Dublin City Council did their job properly and brought this particular individual to court is a clear indication that the Building Control Act is robust”. The irony of this Orwellian double-speak will not be lost on the Priory Hall residents. If we had a robust building control system, the defects uncovered would have been detected during the construction phase and it would not now be necessary for them to leave their homes.

Following the 1981 Stardust disaster, the 1991 Building Control Act which introduced the Building Regulations was hailed as a significant piece of reforming legislation. But while the new regulations reflected international best practice, there was a flaw: they did not provide adequately for enforcement.

The 1991 Act gave the Minister power to introduce regulations for a series of measures relating to enforcement, but these have still not been introduced 20 years later. Two factors have contributed: (1) the determination of the Department of the Environment not to permit State officials to take responsibility, and potential future liability, for building enforcement inspections, and: (2) the unwillingness of the building industry to have statutory inspections imposed, on “efficiency” grounds.

In the absence of statutory legislation, the Law Society needed to provide some safeguards for clients purchasing new homes and so the joint Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI)/Law Society “opinions on compliance” with the Building Regulations were devised.

As the majority of house-builders did not see a need for regular site inspections, it became the norm that a single “visual inspection” – with all the limitations this implies in terms of work covered up – was adequate to permit conveyancing of houses or apartments.

Representations to the Department of the Environment by professional institutes pointed out these shortcomings and proposed reforms. But while officials responded positively, there has been little evidence of reform being given political priority.

Although the majority of house-builders are well-intentioned, serial offenders have brought the building industry into disrepute. Their resistance to regular statutory building inspections is also at variance with historic and international best practice.

Building regulation and enforcement systems have been a feature of civilised societies for hundreds of years, going back to the Romans. In medieval Italy, city republics took pride in the unique urban identities of their cities resulting from their building regulations.

In London, building regulation and enforcement were introduced after the Great Fire of 1666. In Ireland, we introduced building by-laws, backed up by enforcement, as long ago as 1898. We have regressed in adopting a system of “light regulation” since the 1991 Building Control Act.

It is particularly relevant that in the US, heartland of free enterprise, building regulation enforcement involves not just statutory inspections but also registration of building contractors, sub-contractors, architects and engineers.

The problems at Priory Hall have endangered and caused severe hardship for residents who had every right to expect that the building industry, built environment professionals, solicitors, banks, local authorities and State would have measures to prevent this debacle.

The protection of consumers through an effective statutory inspection system is not one on which there is an ideological divide. Labour, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have all had an input to the Building Control Act in its present form. But successive ministers have succumbed to the prevailing conventional wisdom as articulated by the Construction Industry Federation and department mandarins, that Ireland was somehow “different”.

There is a direct parallel between this philosophy and that which held sway in the Department of Finance, banking and commerce, and ultimately caused our economic collapse. This conventional wisdom is flawed and will ultimately cause future Priory Halls and even fatalities.

Phil Hogan came to the department with a reputation for cutting through bureaucracy and getting things done. He now has an opportunity to establish himself as a reforming Minister by addressing this issue effectively. He should direct his officials to look again at international best practice and introduce a building control and enforcement system that recognises the complexities involved in the building process and includes registration of main contractors, services and fire safety equipment sub-contractors.

This would involve: Registration of key building construction personnel including foremen, electricians, mechanical systems and fire safety engineers; lodgement of design documentation, prepared by qualified professionals, on local authority registers prior to commencement of construction of all building and refurbishment work; mandatory statutory inspections and tests at defined stages in the building process by qualified professionals; mandatory lodgement on completion of compliance documents by all key parties involved in the construction process prior to issuing a certificate of occupation by the relevant local authority, and reallocation of suitably qualified public servants to form a national inspectorate tasked with carrying out audits of a minimum of 25 per cent of all design documentation and building sites to ensure a culture of compliance.

If Phil Hogan has the courage to ignore the flawed conventional wisdom and vested interests which have characterised the past three decades of building control and enforcement policy, he will win his place in history as a champion of the Irish consumer.

Irish Times


A new-model creche and other designs for life

From a new centre for the Cliffs of Moher to a new centre for the kids of Tuamgraney, Clare County Council’s architectural awards celebrate diverse design

I WASN’T SURE why Clare County Council came looking for me to be one of their three judges for their Design and Conservation Awards, as I’m obviously not an architect or have any direct experience of planning. They already had those people on board, they assured me. They wanted an external, non-specialist eye.

Having a personal interest in design and architecture, and seeing a lot of examples both poor and terrific on my travels around the country, I said yes.

So I turned up at the Clare County Council offices early one morning last month along with David O’Connor, architect and Fingal county manager, and Sinead Carr, planner and director of service with South Tipperary County Council. The last time these awards were held was in 2005, so to be eligible projects had to have been carried out since then.

After three intense hours of looking at display boards, drawings and project descriptions, we had a shortlist of 29 from the 95 entries in 12 categories. Some categories, such as the best new single house in a town/village, ended up having nothing on the shortlist, while we were surprised that, in a county with some famous examples of shop fronts, the best new shop front/refurbished shop front category had a tiny number of entries.

There followed two packed days of travelling around on a minibus, visiting the locations first in east Clare and then west Clare. Visiting so many projects in such a short period was incredibly stimulating, and, for me, a reminder of how important small-scale projects can be for the communities they serve.

Categories ranged from conservation projects to infill, house extensions, residential developments and commercial buildings, among others. While O’Connor’s professional eye was primarily focused on architecture, and Carr’s on the context of the buildings in relation to their environment, my magpie journalist’s eye was picking up on social use of the public buildings and innovation in general. Surprisingly, for a panel of three, there was virtually no dissension about the eventual winners. The best work clearly spoke loudly to everyone.

ONE OF THE most interesting categories in the 2011 Clare Design and Conservation Awards was Innovation, and the one that provoked the most discussion before we settled on a winner. Or rather, joint winners. The biggest project by far of the 95 entries to the competition was the €31.5 million Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, which opened in 2007. The scale, reach and international profile of this at-times controversial development, designed by Reddy O’Riordan Staehli architects, was incomparable to anything else on the shortlist. It was a deserving winner.

Right down at the far end of the scale, in rural Tuamgraney, we saw a creche called Brigit’s Hearth (see panel). We chose it as a joint winner with the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre because although modest, it was a truly innovative development, and a model of childcare that could and should be replicated elsewhere.

There were some other outstanding winners in other categories. Being a fan of conservation and creative reuse of buildings, I particularly liked the social history behind the Tulla Stables project and the Pavilion at Lisdoonvarna. In Tulla, the stone stables that once served the Church of Ireland patrons have now been converted into artists’ studios and a kiln. The church has now vanished, but the atmospheric graveyard remains, opposite the former stables.

AT LISDOONVARNA, the landmark wooden pavilion theatre, built in 1913 and looking startlingly like an American barn, was renovated beautifully. De Valera once held a rally here, and Maureen Potter appeared. It’s now back in use as a community centre, theatre, dancehall and gathering place.

My favourite entry of all was one that, for reasons that will become obvious, didn’t make the shortlist. It was in the best accessibility/ social inclusion section, and was described as “Arterial road for development at Ashline, Ennis-Kilrush road”. It appeared someone had taken the word “accessibility” literally.

The country girls and boys

Tuamgraney is a village in east Clare, and the community-run Brigit’s Hearth is located some miles beyond the village, literally in a field. Most purpose-built creches in this country are located in some kind of urban cluster of buildings. Directors of the project Lina Pelaez and Veronica Crombie struggled to get planning permission in the rural area they chose.

“What we wanted to do was recreate a home atmosphere, in the countryside,” Pelaez explained. The architect-designed complex, which has eco elements to it, looks like a rural house. You walk up a winding path, of a kind you imagine from a fairy tale, and then you’re in the creche. There’s a row of wellies under an archway, a big enclosed garden and a sandpit the size of a small swimming pool that faces southwest. It contains many tons of sand. “I like the children to dig, dig, dig,” grins Pelaez. “The world has to be abundant when you are little.”

Inside, a home environment has been thoughtfully and carefully created. There’s a lovely kitchen, where the older children help prepare a home-cooked lunch, and a long table with an oilcloth, where those old enough sit to eat. There are wildflowers on the table, a wood-burning stove, and pictures on the walls that “you might see in your granny’s”. Beyond that is a sunny living room, with a couch, beanbags and boxes of wooden toys. There’s also a peaceful room with sheepskins on the floor and some little beds, where children can rest. They have capacity for 26 children.

The only other building nearby is the local community hospital and nursing home. The long-term plan is to develop a kitchen garden, where the children can have allotments, and to forge links between the two communities and generations.

The winners are ...

The winners in the various categories of 2011 Clare Design and Conservation Awards are:

Innovation project Joint winners are Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre; and Brigit’s Hearth creche, Tuamgraney

New house in the countryside Elaine Bowe, architect-owner of house at Drim, Quin

Reuse/refurbishment/extension Architect John O’Reilly’s extension to house on Coast Road, Ballyvaughan

New commercial building Doolin Cave Visitor Centre

New civic building Clare County Council headquarters, Ennis

Conservation project Joint winners: Tulla Stables, Tulla; and Pavilion Hall, Lisdoonvarna

Infill development Rowan Tree Hostel, Ennis

Green technology Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre

Accessibility/social inclusion Ennis Youth Centre, Cloughleigh

New residential development Cappavilla Student Village (below), University of Limerick (located across the Clare border).

Irish Times


Through a ghostly lens: artist captures half-built houses

WHEN PHOTOGRAPHER Anthony Haughey was stalking around in the half-light taking his haunting pictures of Ireland’s half-built housing estates, he was reminded of the battle-scarred war zones he visited in the former Yugoslavia for an earlier project.

Haughey spent much of the past year travelling around Ireland, capturing images of ghost estates. “On weekend nights, I regularly experienced the strange phenomenon of becoming invisible – a ghost haunting a ghost estate.”

Haughey “easily blended into the night-time landscape . . . peering through the holes which are beginning to appear in the slowly disintegrating hoardings”.

“My photographs were taken between sunset and sunrise – partly to avoid any unwanted attention from security guards, who I had originally feared would be patrolling these sites,” he says.

There was also an artistic advantage in photography at night. “The combination of darkness, artificial light and long exposures draws attention to the destruction of the natural environment as a result of overdevelopment.”

His latest exhibition, Settlement, is opened tomorrow by Fintan O’Toole. It recasts ghost estates as eerie, spectral monuments to “the end of Ireland’s gold rush and the resulting cost of unregulated growth and institutionalised speculation”.

An artist and lecturer in photography in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology, Haughey’s artworks have been exhibited internationally. They include Disputed Territory , which explored the aftermath of conflict in Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo. He was struck by “fading posters featuring young families rehearsing utopian lifestyles”, in a dream that became a nightmare for residents of Priory Hall and thousands of others – including those who found that pyrite (“fool’s gold”) was cracking their foundations.

“As a title, Settlement proffers an ironic statement on the deranged financial and planning systems that created the decidedly anti-humanist residential patterns depicted here,” writes Dr Cian O’Callaghan, of NUI Maynooth, in his introduction.

“The absence of human life in the photographs highlights the uncanny decoupling of these houses from dwelling . . . They are literally places haunted by the Celtic Tiger.”

Curated by Leszek Wolnik, the exhibition at Dublin’s Copper House Gallery includes contributions from DIT’s NamaLab project, UCD school of architecture and architect Paschal Mahoney, putting forward positive proposals for “these negative spaces”.

* On Tuesday next, November 1st, Dr O’Callaghan, Mr Mahoney and Frank McDonald will take part in a public discussion on “Reimagining a future for ghost estates, commercial developments and public spaces”. For more information, e-mail: leszek@fire.ie

Irish Times


Journey planner to make best use of public transport

EVER wondered the best way of getting from Blarney to Bundoran or from Listowel to Letterkenny without jumping in the car?

The National Transport Authority (NTA) is rolling out a nationwide journey planner which will provide door-to-door information for all journeys across the country, making best use of every mode of public transport or — where applicable — on foot.

According to the NTA, the National Intermodal Journey Planner can be used online, on mobile phones and as an app.

"The journey planner will integrate static public transport information with real-time information for customers on the go," a spokeswoman said.

"The planner will work in such a way that customers will perceive the public transport network as an integrated network rather than a fragmented compilation of different operators and modes."

It said the planner will support tourism and the promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination. The spokeswoman said it will allow visitors to plan public transport trips in advance and to plan an itinerary for the duration of their visit.

"The service will be similar to that provided by other transport authorities such as Transport for London."

The contract for developing the planner has gone to a German company, Mentz Datenverarbeitung.

It said data from Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and the rail services will imported directly into the system, while data from smaller operators will be edited into the system by the Irish-based operators.

Testing of the journey planning system is expected to begin early next year.

The planner and real-time service will be available at www.transportforireland.ie.

The NTA said the website and phone app should be ready by March.

Irish Examiner


Agency will sell assets below price it paid in 'tactical' move to aid market

NAMA has revealed it would be prepared to sell a small number of assets below what it paid for them -- in a "tactical" attempt to get the property market moving.

However, the agency said reports that it would accept discounts of 10pc were "factually incorrect".

The agency was responding to a suggestion on a NAMA-related blog that it was prepared to live with a 10pc drop on the prices it paid banks for the assets.

The comments about a 10pc markdown were attributed to a senior NAMA executive, John Mulcahy.

But a spokesman for NAMA last night rejected the 10pc figure and said: "NAMA policy remains to sell assets at the best achievable return; our goal is to realise at least the price the agency paid for the underlying assets.

"If there is any exception to that policy, it will be a tactical decision in the interests of stimulating demand in a quiet market. It will certainly not be typical or widespread."

NAMA has about €30bn of assets made up of office space, retail, apartments, houses and undeveloped land in Ireland, the UK and Europe. Mulcahy was speaking to fund managers last week, briefing them on how the agency intends to repay the taxpayer over the next 10 years.

He said NAMA would continue to proceed on a case-by-case basis and was not currently planning to sell off whole loan books, just individual assets.

Meanwhile, NAMA is expected to pay off another €500m of debt before the end of the year, subject to board approval.

The agency is also currently trying to reverse transactions between NAMA developers and their wives and children. The NAMA Act 2009 does give the agency the power to reverse the transfers if the courts believe they were done to put assets beyond the reach of NAMA.

Emmet Oliver
Irish Independent


Scale of hospital a key issue for planning board

THE ENORMOUS scale of the proposed Children’s Hospital of Ireland on the Mater site on Dublin’s Eccles Street has emerged as the key issue in the first week of An Bord Pleanála’s oral hearing on this €650 million Government-approved project.

The focus by objectors on the height and bulk of the multilayered scheme is inevitable as it is one of the biggest structures ever planned for Dublin, as well as being significantly taller than the stadiums at Croke Park and Lansdowne Road.

Rising above a four-level basement car park, the hospital is “stacked” – five storeys of major diagnostic, topped by a “therapy park” with a rooftop terrace on the next four floors, and a curvaceous seven-storey block of inpatient wards floating above.

This element is evocative of a multideck ocean liner, permanently “moored” on top of a nine-storey building and highly visible on the city’s skyline as an “anomalous” feature, in the words of one supporter, or simply “wrong”, according to objectors.

As a linear block, the proposed children’s hospital would have an impact quite different to a tower – not just because of its overall height which, at 73.89m (243.8ft), would be 14.5m (47.8ft) taller than Liberty Hall, but also because of its length and breadth.

The oversailing ward block would extend to 150m (495ft) in length and about 30m (99ft) in width, narrowing in the middle and tapering at each end. In other words, the most visible part of the project would be equivalent to eight Liberty Halls side by side, and twice as deep.

According to critic Shane O’Toole, who appeared for the hospital promoters, the “sculptural” ward block “literally elevates the position of sick children . . . above all else”, giving them “wonderful views . . . which will be better than from any penthouse apartment in the city”.

He rejected concerns that the intrusion of such an enormous edifice into the northside Georgian core would jeopardise Dublin achieving Unesco world heritage site status, citing examples of buildings that had “dramatically changed the unique character” of other cities.

But neither Cook Fournier’s “biomorphic” Spacelab in Graz nor Renzo Piano’s Nemo science museum in Amsterdam, like a half-sunk ship in the harbour, are seriously out of scale. And Robbrecht en Daem’s concert hall in Bruges, while bulky, is not anything like as tall.

Hospital architects O’Connell Mahon and NBBJ insist that the undulating form of the Eccles Street ward block, with its “thoughtfully engineered glass skin”, would “sit favourably” on Dublin’s skyline, catching and “subtly reflecting the ever- changing light and sky”.

They have made repeated references to Dublin City Council’s 2008 Phibsborough/ Mountjoy local area plan, which supported the development of a “world-class” children’s hospital on the Mater site and recognised that this would entail a “cluster of taller buildings”.

However, the plan also said: “Every effort must be made to ensure that increases in height will not have any negative overshadowing effects on adjoining properties or impact negatively on the settings of the protected structures both on the site and its periphery.”

The plan envisaged that significantly taller buildings might be located on the Eccles Street frontage than what O’Connell Mahon/NBBJ have proposed. Indeed, they have made a virtue of the fact that their scheme would be only four storeys high on the street.

“The Eccles Street block fills the existing void which resulted from significant demolitions of existing buildings during the 1980s and will complete the street in a manner that is consistent with good urban design objectives, appropriate to the character and urban grain . . . ”

The vast bulk of the hospital is set back from the street, partly hidden by a high canopied entrance forecourt, on a site that is already elevated at least 20m above sea level. As planning consultant Eamonn Kelly conceded, its scale would be “dramatically different”.

City council management’s view, in a submission to An Bord Pleanála, is that “while it is clear that a building of this scale will impact significantly on the character of the city, this is an inevitable part of the compromise necessary to achieve development in inner urban areas”.

Yet the height-and-bulk issue was barely considered in the decisions made by the Health Service Executive, former minister for health Mary Harney and her successor, James Reilly – and two governments – to proceed with this scheme, at a direct cost to taxpayers of €540 million.

The independent review commissioned by Dr Reilly last May only refers obliquely to this central issue, noting that “generic” eight-storey buildings on greenfield sites in Blanchardstown, Newlands Cross and Tallaght would be “significantly lower than the current proposals”.

Yet although it would be cheaper to develop the children’s hospital on any one of the three alternative sites, the review recommended that the present scheme should go ahead on the basis that writing off €24 million in planning and design costs “may be politically sensitive”.

Nobody considered that the objective of “co-locating” paediatric and adult hospitals might be achieved if the site occupied by Mountjoy Prison – directly across the North Circular Road from the Mater and due to be replaced – was developed for the Children’s Hospital of Ireland.

Neither has any consideration been given to what will become of the existing children’s hospitals in Temple Street and Crumlin after they are vacated. Will new uses be found for these buildings or will they become playgrounds for vandals like the empty Army barracks in Naas?

The only lateral thinking that has been applied to the project is evident in the form of the proposed development – the decision by its architects that a huge and highly visible horizontal slab, however well tricked out, is the most appropriate response to their almost impossible brief.

An Bord Pleanála’s oral hearing is expected to continue for a further two weeks, but it would not be surprising if the board eventually gives its approval for the scheme; after all, it represents the realisation of Government policy, which the board would be loathe to ignore.

Irish Times


Covanta seeks €2.2bn to start incinerator

US energy giant Covanta has said it plans to raise €2.2 billion from which it hopes to begin construction of the controversial Poolbeg incinerator as early as next year.

The move comes despite the company not having finalised an agreementwithDublin City Council over the supply ofmunicipal waste to burn at the 600,000-tonne facility, The Sunday Business Post understands. A spokesman for the New Jersey-based company told an industry conference in Birmingham last month that the firm expected to begin construction on the plant in Ringsend by early 2012.

The new start date would be considerably sooner than industry experts had expected. ‘‘We are taking forward six EfW(energy fromwaste) plant projects in the UK and one in Ireland for which we need a combined total of »2bn in investment,€ a spokesperson said. ‘‘The first project is the Poolbeg Peninsula, Dublin EfW plant that wil l treat 600,000 tonnes of waste per annum.We aim to secure financing by the end of this year to start construction by early 2012.€

Covanta said it had advisers in place for the Dublin project. From the €2.2 billion raised, Covanta anticipated that the EfWplants will cost between €220mand €540m each. It is likely the announcement has come as a surprise to the firm’s joint partner in the project, Dublin City Council. The local authority told this newspaper that it was ‘‘exhorting Covanta continuously to proceed with construction of the waste-to-energy project as quickly as possible’’.

‘‘The 2013 and 2016 EU diversion of waste from landfill targets are rapidly approaching, which makes the Poolbeg facilitymore urgent than ever,€ a spokesperson for the council said.

Sunday Business Post


‘Highly unlikely’ Priory Hall would happen in Britain

TOUGHER inspection laws in Britain make it "highly unlikely" that a situation could arise like Priory Hall in Dublin, where residents had to evacuate the development because of serious fire safety concerns, a building expert has claimed.

A leading British authority on building defect recognition, Prof Malcolm Hollis, said a key issue in Ireland appeared to be the lack of independent assessment of the design, together with detailed checking of the building work.

Asked if a situation like Priory Hall could emerge in Britain, he replied: "You can’t rule anything out in terms of defects in buildings but it would be highly unlikely and it is certainly not something you would expect to see repeated in more than one building."

Prof Hollis, who spoke at the annual conference of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland conference in Dublin, said the British model of independent inspections, where developments are examined before, during and after construction, protected occupants and ensured the value of new properties.

The professor of building pathology at the University of Reading said it appeared that the lack of legislation requiring mandatory inspections and enforcement in Ireland had resulted in cases where new construction did not achieve the required standards.

"We have already seen the result of this in relation to fire safety. But the health and well-being of occupants can also be put at risk through failures to achieve required standards for ventilation, water-proofing, drainage, heating and energy conservation," he said.

"In the UK, approved independent inspectors work with the developer before, during and after construction to ensure a stringent approach to ensuring compliance in accordance with the building regulations. A similar system could work in Ireland," he said.

The president of the society, John Curtin, said they wanted tighter building control. He said local authorities were only inspecting between 10% and 15% of developments in their area. He also said the buildings inspected by the councils were only visited once during the building process.

Mr Curtin said all developments should be visited on a "blanket basis" and the society would favour the British model, where there were constant building inspections on all sites.

The society has also called on the Government to clarify the issue of retrospective banning of upward-only rent reviews in commercial leases, a situation severely impacting on Ireland’s ability to attract foreign investment. It pointed to figures suggesting that investment levels have dropped to about €180 million so far this year, compared to over €3 billion in 2006.

Meanwhile, the country’s planners could be tied up in red tape for years as a result of more un-coordinated rules and restrictions.

Planning expert Conor Skehan, who addressed a conference of the Irish Planning Institute in Dublin yesterday, said "a plethora of environmental restrictions threatens to engulf and overwhelm rural areas, with potentially disastrous results for their future".

Irish Examiner


McDonald's battles back in bid for Temple Bar branch

McDONALD'S has launched a detailed appeal against Dublin City Council's decision to reject its plans for an outlet in Temple Bar, the Herald has learned.

The company lodged the appeal against the decision on September 29 -- almost a month before the closing date set by An Bord Pleanala.

The appeal -- seen by the Herald -- rejects all of the council's grounds for refusing its application and includes a detailed legal opinion from a member of the Senior Counsel.

The appeal questions whether the application was rejected due to the "perception" of the effect a McDonald's outlet would have on the surrounding area.

It states: "It appears that the principle obstacle to the subject development is perceptions of the proposed end user.

"Would a different result have been achieved if the planning application was silent on the proposed end user?

"We strongly submit that it is the use that should be assessed -- not the end user."


And the company also rejects the decision that it would sell alcohol if granted permission to open in Temple Bar.

A number of objections to the original planning application raised concern about the alcohol licence held by the previous occupants Frankie's Steakhouse and Bar.

Temple Bar Cultural Trust stated in their respective objection: "Given that McDonalds sell beer in their outlets in many countries on the continent of Europe, Temple Bar Cultural Trust are concerned that the operator may seek to apply to transfer the restaurant licence currently in place in the existing unit."

However, McDonalds completely ruled out the prospect of serving alcohol in its appeal, stating that it would "extinguish" the alcohol licence that is currently in place if An Bord Pleanala overturns Dublin City Council's decision.

And McDonald's also fired a shot at Temple Bar Cultural Trust, claiming that "any congestion on the Square has resulted from outdoor seating leases issued by Temple Bar Cultural Trust".

Evening Herald


Plans for controversial flood barriers in capital put on hold

PLANS to obstruct one of the best sea views in the capital with controversial flood barriers were sent back to the drawing board last night.

In a three-hour meeting between Dublin City Council and concerned residents and business owners from the north Dublin suburb of Clontarf, plans to build a 9ft-high flood barrier along the picturesque promenade were put on hold.

Dublin City Council assured residents and business owners they would revise their plans.

The proposed Flood Defence Scheme and Water Mains project is expected to stretch 3km and reach up to 9ft on the promenade from Alfie Byrne Road to the Wooden Bridge.

Dublin City Council secured planning permission for the €11m project in 2008, but residents say they were only made aware of the scale of the work last month.

Irish Independent


City of tribes and diversity: Galway adopts intercultural strategy

Latin American, Muslim, Asian, African and eastern European communities have all signed up to the strategy, which was initiated by Galway Mayor Hildegarde Naughton yesterday.

Almost one-fifth of the population is classified as “non-Irish”, and Galway was the first Irish city to adopt an anti-racism strategy, Ms Naughton noted when she endorsed the project.

City authorities have no direct remit in improving the living conditions of asylum seekers – some of whom held recent protests – but the strategy’s “intercultural forum” should give this sector an opportunity to state their case, she said.

She hopes to develop an “ambassador of interculturalism” role, and has given a commitment to support the strategy’s actions.

Called “Galway – a city of equals”, the strategy is supported by Galway City Council and the city development board, and includes a one-off grant scheme of €15,000 which groups can apply for a slice of.

It has five “pillars”, namely promoting the city, living together, delivering services, rejecting racism and building an “intercultural economy”.

By introducing a concept which highlights the advantages of diversity, the new strategy acknowledges the influence of British planning consultant Charles Landry who visited in 2008 and challenged the city to “re-imagine itself”.

Liam Hanrahan of Galway City Council noted that Galway’s “non-Irish” population had grown by 9 per cent between 2002 and 2006, and there had been only marginal changes in population levels in a snapshot of the most recent census.

Galway already has the “most diverse, artistic and welcoming image” of any city in Ireland, but structures and leadership have to be put in place to ensure it becomes a “city of equals”, the strategy says.

A full action plan is currently being developed that will link services, groups, communities and agencies.

The city’s refugee support group, the Galway Traveller Movement and the city partnership, along with the Garda Síochána, are among the groups supporting the initiative.

Galway is currently hosting social inclusion week, which features workshops, sporting events, exhibitions and seminars.

Irish Times


Dublin City Council to meet Clontarf residents over flood wall plans

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL is to meet with members of Clontarf’s residents and business associations today to update them on controversial plans to build a flood defence defence wall along three kilometres of the area’s promenade.

Some 5,000 people protested the against the plans last Sunday with local politicians supporting the cause.

The proposal is for three kilometres of flood defences of between 0.85m and 2.75m in height to be built along the promenade. Construction is due to begin next year.
Residents say they welcome the need for a flood defence system but reject the current plan, citing tourism and safety as two reasons. The Clontarf Residents’ Association says it was not properly consulted during the initial planning process back in 2006.
It also argues that the project would reach up to 9 foot in places.

Dublin City Council argues that a full public consultation was carried out and an Environmental Impact Statement was submitted to An Bord Pleanála.

The meeting today follows the DCC’s comment that it would “re-engage” with the Office of Public Works and the planning board about the scheme.

Speaking to the TheJournal.ie this morning, Clontarf Residents’ Association member Deirdre Tobin said: “We can’t pre-empt these things but we hope they see sense and go back to the drawing board. We will voice what we have to say in objections to various aspects of it.”

Local architects who have examined the proposal on behalf of members of the Clontarf Residents’ Association and the Clontarf Business Association plan to make a presentation at the meeting which is due to take place at 4pm today.



Thursday, 20 October 2011

Priory Hall - Regulations scandal

WHILE fire safety regulations at Priory Hall in Donaghmede may have been agreed at the planning stage of this rogue development, the question is whether they were checked at all during construction, before completion of a time-bomb apartment block.
Arguably, had that happened, 240 people would not be in their present plight. It’s one thing to rubber stamp regulations on an architect’s drawing but an entirely different matter to ensure important steps are not only taken, but seen to be taken during construction.

Otherwise, impressive-looking drawings from teams of architects are hardly worth the paper they are on. The Priory Hall scandal is graphic proof of the need to rigorously check fire regulations during construction of the building, not merely tick off boxes after completion when nothing can be seen.

Irish Examiner


Nama offers apartments for Priory Hall residents

THE NATIONAL Assets Management Agency has submitted a list of 332 apartments to Dublin City Council for consideration in rehousing residents of the Priory Hall apartments.

A Nama spokesman said the agency had supplied a list of potential properties in Dublin 13, Dublin 17 and Dublin 11. Nama has been examining housing units linked to loans on its books that might be used to accommodate residents from the 187-apartment complex in Donaghmede who have been evacuated from their homes.

It is understood that the identified sites include 66 units in Belmayne, off the Malahide Road, 12 units in Belmayne Park, 38 units in Clongriffin, and eight units in Clongriffin Town Centre, all of which are in Dublin 13, as well as units in Finglas, Baldoyle and Northern Cross on the Malahide Road.

Last week, the council secured a court order to evacuate the apartments after it was found the buildings contained serious structural deficiencies and posed a fire safety risk.

The Nama spokesman said it was now up to the council to review the list and make contact with the relevant owners or agents to see if it could agree terms. He said that, contrary to recent media reports, Nama was not in position to “simply hand over” properties to the council as it did not directly own them.

Last night, the council said 131 adults and 49 children under 12 had been provided with emergency accommodation in the Regency Hotel, Whitehall.

Approximately 40-50 people remained in the apartment complex ahead of today’s evacuation deadline. The council said it had so far secured 22 housing units, which would be allocated on a “prioritised basis” based on individual family need.

Minister of State for Housing Willie Penrose said he had been in contact with Nama officials yesterday about rehousing the residents. But he said many Nama units may not be suitable.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail Senator Averil Power has called on all financial institutions that provided mortgages for properties in Priory Hall to freeze the monthly repayments until the development works are completed, saying she understood one bank had already suspended such repayments.

Irish Times


Date set for offshore drilling

PROVIDENCE Resources has announced the middle of November as the expected formal start date for its long-anticipated drilling programme off the coast.

The Tony O’Reilly Jnr-headed exploration firm is set to undertake the biggest drilling campaign ever seen in Irish waters, covering a number of fields over the next two years.

Initial drilling at the Barryroe oil discovery off the Cork coast has been delayed slightly due to the wait for available rig equipment. The relevant equipment is currently being used by another operator in the North Sea, but is expected to be delivered to Providence soon, allowing for a drill start next month.

Drilling will begin at the Barryroe appraisal well — the Government’s latest offshore Ireland exploration licence awards saw Providence gain a larger chunk of the Barryroe field — with the objective to demonstrate commercial flow rates of at least 1,800 barrels of oil per day.

Another Irish exploration company Petroneft also had good news yesterday, announcing a further oil find in its Licence 67 asset in the Tomsk region of Russia, where the company is solely focused.

This marks the company’s third oil discovery this year. The last discovery has the potential to boost the company’s total production levels by 50%.

Elsewhere, Irish mining company Ormonde Mining announced positive gold assay results from the drilling of two holes at its Zamora Gold Project joint venture in Spain, with Aurum Mining.

The joint venture is now planning a follow-up drilling campaign to extend the thicker gold mineralisation.

Irish Examiner


Nama may make some housing units available

EMERGENCY ACCOMMODATION: DUBLIN CITY Council says it will pursue “every avenue” in the coming days to find suitable accommodation for the residents of Priory Hall who have been evacuated from their homes.

The National Asset Management may work with the council to see if it can assist with the housing needs of residents, according to a report last night. A Nama spokesman told RTÉ the agency may make available some of the vacant housing units which are linked to loans held by Nama.

The High Court last Friday granted the council an order to evacuate the 187-apartment complex in Donaghmede after hearing evidence it was a very serious fire safety risk, had significant structural deficiencies and that insurance cover had been withdrawn.

Residents have been provided with temporary accommodation in the Regency Hotel in Whitehall, Dublin, but many, particularly those with families, said it was unsuitable. A council spokesman last night said it had so far secured 22 housing units which would be allocated on the basis of “individual family need”.

The complex developers, Thomas McFeely and Larry O’Mahony, have been ordered to surrender their passports after they said they could not pay the hotel bills.

Concerns have been raised in relation to fire safety at another McFeely development, Áras Na Cluaine in Clondalkin. South Dublin County Council said it had no direct involvement in the process.

Irish Times


Call for Clontarf wall accord

TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny called for a compromise in the row over the proposed embankment in Clontarf, in north Dublin.

“It is visually appealing for people to be able to see the bay and the sea and to have a polder or levy of that scale would cause people to feely rightly aggrieved,” he added.

Replying to Independent TD Finian McGrath, Mr Kenny said there was a problem in that planning permission had been issued by Dublin City Council. “The question is what can be done about it,” he added. “As the deputy is aware, there are some other suspicions about the real nature of the reason for a mound of that scale in the first instance.”

Mr McGrath urged the Taoiseach to tell the authorities to come up with a new and reasonable flooding plan while protecting the amenity.

Mr Kenny said a compromise might be reached whereby people could still see the bay while their houses could be protected. “The problem for those of us who have been elected to this House is that permission has been granted for a barrier of the scale in question.”

Irish Times


Dublinked to support open data for businesses

IRISH BUSINESSES and communities are being given the opportunity to tap into data collected by the Dublin regional authorities through a new online portal, which it is hoped will generate new business opportunities.

The Dublinked initiative promotes open data, and facilitates access to information including planning application data from across the region, air and water pollution maps, noise maps, parking and traffic volumes.

This could enable new uses for the data: for example, sharing public transport data could help users looking to buy houses in a certain area. Health performance data could be used to make services more efficient. One application already in use in the US allows people travelling to hospital to register with the hospital before arriving.

The data sharing initiative launched yesterday includes information from Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, South Dublin and Fingal county councils, but it is envisaged that other organisations, both public and private, will share their information in the future.

More than 100 datasets are available, and that is expected to rise to about 200 before Christmas as more local authorities provide data to the portal.

A 2009 European Commission report estimates that across the EU, public sector bodies are estimated to be sitting on a potential treasure trove of data, worth up to €27 billion.

NUI Maynooth has taken on the role of co-ordinating the data project, and curating data to make it easier for users to gain access to the information they need.

“We are part of the community, we wanted to do something. It’s our way of giving something back,” says NUI Maynooth’s Dr Ronan Farrell, co-ordinator of Dublinked.

Smaller enterprises could use the project to gain access to new niche markets, and identify potential business opportunities.

“Open data markets are immature. There are very few incumbents there,” says Jonathan Raper, chief executive of Placr, a British company that specialises in using data as a service.

Projects such as Dublinked allow SMEs to access data at a faster pace than local authorities could supply it, and with data available free of charge, it’s an attractive prospect for companies.

It has also prompted a change in how local authorities view data.

“It’s not natural for government,” said Fingal County Council’s Dominic Byrne. “What you’re looking at is a changing world and a changing environment and it’s enabled by technology. Not just the web, but the fact that it’s ubiquitous.

“Now you can have access to data all the time. In the same way that the private sector is changing to deal with this, the public sector also needs to change.”

To address privacy concerns the data released through Dublinked does not contain personal details that could lead to people being identified.

Irish Times


Priory Hall sparks safety fear over recent builds

CONCERNS have been raised that other apartment blocks built during the boom may not meet the required building and fire safety regulations.

The news comes as 180 Priory Hall residents spent a second night at the Regency Hotel in Dublin following their removal due to serious fire safety concerns at the complex.

The developers behind the complex, Thomas McFeely and Larry O’Mahony, have been ordered to surrender their passports. Mr McFeely said he would commit resources to repairs.

Currently, developments are signed off on using a largely self-regulating system. As houses and apartments are sold, architects and engineers certify that the works have been completed in accordance with building regulations based on the plans supplied by the developers.

Principal solicitor with apartmentlaw.ie Sonia McEntee said her firm was receiving a growing number of calls in relation to building flaws in apartment complexes built in the past six or seven years.

"I think there are broader issues with compliance to building regulations," she said. "While fire safety might be the most urgent or the most critical of them, there are also issues with ventilation, insulation, waste control and waste disposal. Issues like that are coming out and I’m certainly having more and more calls in relation to incidents like that."

Ms McEntee said that, in light of the Priory Hall case, there was a case to be made for ensuring that architects and engineers sign off on buildings for purchasers rather than developers.

"There is certainly cause for looking at a system whereby architects and engineers would sign off on behalf of the purchaser so that they have benefit of independent sign-off when they are purchasing properties like that," she said.

"In one sense, the horse has bolted for so many because we are unlikely to see development of the kind we’ve seen in the last five to seven years in the short term."

Construction Industry Federation director Tom Parlon has criticised the previous government for failing to act on its calls since 2000 for the establishment of a Register of Competent Builders.

"Clearly, the Priory Hall situation highlights the need for change," he said.

"The register is crucial in this regard. This can be augmented by a system of continuous inspection by professionally accredited individuals. Failing to build to the required standard or wrongly signing off on a building should carry heavy penalties for the builder and the professionals involved."

In July, a number of measures were announced by the Department of Environment and local authorities with a view to improving compliance with and oversight of the requirements of the building regulations.

This includes the introduction of mandatory certificates of compliance by builders and designers of buildings, confirming statutory building regulations requirements have been met.

Irish Examiner


Heritage Group to fight port plans

BREMORE Heritage Group, 'No Port Here' has vowed to fight Drogheda Port Company plans to develop a new deep water harbour close to the Delvin River. The group was commenting after Paul Fleming, chief executive officer, Drogheda Port, had informal discussions with Balbriggan Town Council chairman and town clerk. Afterwards, Drogheda Port said it hopes to move the project to the planning stage before the end of 2011. 'We have no idea of what they have planned for this land which is among the most important in the country in terms of archelogy because every river which run into the sea in that area has passage tombs. 'What will building a two kilometre long pier out into the sea mean for currents? It is like putting a length of rock cliff into the Irish Sea. Will it mean that Balbriggan and Skerries harbours would silt up? The plans could effect the wildlife, ecology and environment as far south as Dublin Bay. 'We just don't know what they may find from an archeological point of view even under the sea,' said Bremore Heritage Group ' No Port Here' spokesperson, Kathryn Marsh. Drogheda Port Company began the development in 2002 as 'a strategic response to the impending future deficit in port capacity not only at Drogheda Port but also on the east coast of Ireland'. Drogheda Port Company's joint venture partners is Castle Market Holdings Limited , whose business in Ireland is managed by Treasury Holdings. Calling for the port developers to consult with groups like themselves and An Taisce, Kathryn Marsh says the lack of information is frustrating for everyone. 'We will only know what is happening when the planning application is lodged. In the meatime, we are just going on things that we hear from a number of different sources,' she said. The group would also like to see the debate widened to because the project is going to impact on thousands of people living along the coast.

Fingal Independent


Children's hospital to be world class, say its backers

THE planned new €650m national children's hospital will be a "world-class" facility, a planning hearing has been told.

Under its current timetable, construction on the new Children's Hospital of Ireland at Eccles Street in north Dublin will begin in the second quarter of next year with the first patient due to be treated towards the end of 2016.

On the first day of An Bord Pleanala's oral hearing in Dublin yesterday, the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) outlined its plans for the project, which will replace the three existing children's hospitals in the capital.

The new hospital will have 392 in-patient beds and 53 day care bed spaces and will include an emergency department, 13 operating theatres, research laboratories, a hospital school and restaurant and a family resource centre.

There will also be a four-storey underground carpark with 972 spaces and more than 240 bicycle spaces.

The development, which was designed by architects O'Connell Mahon/NBBJ, will vary in height from four storeys fronting on to Eccles Street, rising to 16 storeys toward the centre of the site.


While some residents' groups have raised concerns at the height of the development, its designers have pointed out that the local area plan does not impose height restrictions.

Once up and running, it will be the only paediatric hospital in the country providing specialist treatments such as cardiac and cancer surgery, bone marrow transplantation and neurosurgery.

It will also provide out-patient clinics and emergency department services for children in the greater Dublin area.

The NPHDB will continue to outline its submission to An Bord Pleanala today and tomorrow and will face questions from objectors next week including residents' associations, individuals and organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society.

The main objections raised so far are the proposed siting of the new hospital, its height in relation to surrounding buildings and traffic management.

Eamonn Kelly, chartered town planner and consultant to the NPHDB, yesterday told the hearing that the new facility would be co-located with the newly constructed Mater Misericordiae University Hospital for adults and the proposed future maternity hospital, which would see the Rotunda relocated to the Mater site.

Breda Heffernan
Irish Independent


€10.5m required to remove pyrite from Ballymun homes, report shows

UPWARDS OF €10.5 million will have to be spent to remove the defective building material pyrite from newly built Ballymun regeneration homes, a Dublin City Council report has revealed.

Three developments of a total of 274 houses and apartments built to rehouse the tenants of the Ballymun flats have been found to have “pyrite problems”, the council said in a report submitted to the Oireachtas last week.

Remedial work to fix the problem in the largest of these developments, an estate of 124 housing units known as Sillogue 4, will cost approximately €10.5 million. Further tests are needed on the other two developments, Carton Terrace, which has 94 units, and Owensilla, which has 58 units, to determine the extent of the work needed and the costs involved, the council said.

The final costs of fixing the Ballymun pyrite problems are likely to be several multiples of what the council is facing to remove pyrite from its other social housing developments.

Pyrite, sometimes known as fool’s gold, is a mineral which naturally occurs in stone, but when exposed to air or water becomes unstable and can cause structural damage, including cracking and buckling of walls and floors, when used as a building material.

The presence of pyrite in the council’s housing stock was first confirmed in 2008 in the Avila Park Traveller housing scheme in Finglas. Six houses built in 2005 had shown “unusual defects” within a year of completion the council said, which were ultimately attributed to pyrite.

A subsequent review of the council’s recently built housing stock revealed excessive levels of pyrite in Clancarthy Court, a development of 20 senior citizens’ flats in Donnycarney; a complex of 69 units in Ballybough; a community and childcare facility in Ballymun and the three Ballymun housing developments.

Work to remove pyrite and repair the six Avila houses will cost about €663,000 and is due to begin this month. Work to repair the Clancarthy Court flats has already started and is expected to cost €700,000, the report said.

The developers of the Ballymun community facility, James Elliott Construction Ltd (JEC), won a High Court case against Irish Asphalt, which owned the Bay Lane quarry near Blanchardstown which supplied the pyrite-contaminated material. Irish Asphalt has sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Since the court action was initiated pyrite was discovered in the Ballymun housing estates, the council said. While the pyrite was discovered in Sillogue before the houses were brought into use, Carton Terrace and Owensilla are fully occupied.

Ballymun Regeneration Ltd is considering legal action against Irish Asphalt and “a decision is imminent”, the council said. The costs of the work will be funded by the council and the developers of the housing, the council said.

Irish Times


Master plan under way for Shannon estuary

A STRATEGIC integrated framework plan – claimed to be the first of its type in Ireland – is being drawn up for the Shannon estuary, with the involvement of all the local authorities and other stakeholders.

Ultimately, the plan “will be used to direct and guide the sustainable management, development and environmental conservation of the Shannon estuary and its environs into the future”, says the steering committee’s brief.

The estuary is the largest in Ireland with an area of some 1,500sq km and extends for 100km from Limerick city to Loop Head. However, jurisdiction for what happens around it is split between four local authorities – Clare, Limerick and Kerry county councils and Limerick City Council.

The marine aspects of the estuary are controlled by a variety of statutory authorities, including the Department of the Environment, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Despite the presence of installations such as Moneypoint power station and Aughinish Alumina, the entire estuary is a special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive and much of it is also a special protection area under the birds directive.

“These designations impose considerable obligations on those charged with their protection,” the brief says. Thus, the strategic plan “should not impact negatively on the favourable conservation status of a designated site, either by itself or in combination with other plans”.

When completed, the plan is to be incorporated into the four local authorities’ development plans, and it will be up to them to implement its policies and objectives. It will also become part of the Shannon Foynes Port Company’s master plan, now being drafted.

Port company chief executive Patrick Keating said it was “one of the key economic engines” of the region, with trade valued at more than €6 billion a year, and needed a “clear vision for making sure the company can continue to deliver for the estuary, region and nation”. Clare County Council planning officer Gordon Daly said the port company was “totally on board”; its chief executive is a member of the steering committee and the company is also part-funding the overall project.

A public notice has been published to encourage the public and all interested parties to bring forward proposals and ideas to help shape the plan for the estuary.

All submissions will be taken into consideration prior to publication of a final draft, expected next June. Submissions should be sent to RPS Consulting Engineers, Mulkear House, Newtown Centre, Annacotty, Co Limerick, or e-mail Sheila.Downes@rpsgroup.com

Irish Times


Cork Institute of Technology development hailed as one of world’s best

THE administration and student centre at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), which ran €6 million over budget has been chosen as one of the world’s best-designed education buildings.

The project is one of just seven third-level facilities included in the latest Designing for Education, the OECD’s salute to exemplary educational facilities produced every five years.

The three buildings are constructed around a circular green and were opened in 2006, accommodating the college’s student centre, administration offices and CIT’s tourism and hospitality studies block.

The 10,000-square metre complex was designed by two architectural firms, de Blacam and Meagher, and Boyd Barrett Murphy O’Connor Architects.

CIT development director Michael Delaney, said that the college authorities are delighted with the accolade which places it alongside designs of universities and other higher education settings in Belgium, China, France, Poland, Britain and the US.

"It’s a really timeless building, as well as being an iconic design, we’re really pleased with it. It will still look great in 20 or 30 years time," he said.

The jury of six distinguished architects for the OECD’s Centre for Effective Learning Environments reviewed 166 projects from primary to third level in 33 countries and selected 60 of them based on innovative design, fitness for purpose, sustainability and safety.

The three-page entry on CIT in the just-published compendium says the buildings give the campus in Bishopstown a distinctive character, gravitas and sense of place, with the predominantly brick construction giving permanence and a sense of solidity.

The construction time for the project was almost twice as long as expected when various delays saw it take almost three years to complete. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) last year showed that the cost ran to almost €20m, compared with a €13.7m budget.

The reasons for the overspend and delays included requirements to divert power cables and a water main, unforeseen changes to the foundation structure and disputes over the delay costs.

Almost €1m of the additional cost was spent on conciliation, although far higher legal costs could have been incurred if the issues in dispute with the main contractor had gone further.

The Department of Education told C&AG, John Buckley, that CIT could not have predicted the various delay and cost factors.

Meanwhile, work could begin on a new library building at the CIT campus before the end of the year, after a recent planning decision by Cork City Council.

Solas Education for Life Ltd has appealed a condition, believed to relate to development levies, but no third parties have objected to the permission. The company is involved in a public private partnership to build the 6,800sq/m, three- storey facility, to include book collections and reading areas, IT workstations, learning café, group study and postgraduate research areas along with a lecture theatre.

Irish Examiner


Statue location dispute ongoing

A TOWN has been gripped by a moving statue saga that has led to heated exchanges between politicians, clergy and hospital managers.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has applied for planning permission to retain a life-size statue of the Sacred Heart in the grounds of a local hospital. But angry local councillors and senior clergy want the monument returned to a perch above the main door of Killarney Community Hospital where it had been in situ for over 70 years.

The row dates back to March of last year when the HSE removed the statue from above the entrance and relocated it to the grounds of the hospital.

A spokesman said the decision was made on health and safety grounds and denied claims it was part of a plan to remove all religious artifacts from the hospital.

But the move sparked a public outcry in Killarney with councillors backing a call from the Bishop of Kerry for the statue to be returned to its original site.

And Bord Pleanála later ruled that planning permission should have been sought for the relocation of the statue and council officials warned the HSE it would be issued with court proceedings if it failed to formally respond to a formal warning.

It is understood the HSE is still determined that the statue should remain on a plinth on the grounds of the hospital and an application for retention has now been submitted to the planning authorities in Killarney.

Killarney Town Council’s planning section expects to make a decision on the application by late November.

Irish Examiner


People living in cities should pay higher property tax

A new property tax should not be based on market value but on the size of the site and the size of the town or village in which it is situated, according to a paper presented to the economics conference in Kenmare, Co Kerry

Michael Collins of the Economic Research Unit and Adam Larragy of the University of London said this kind of site-value tax would get around the practical difficulties of introducing a property tax, as the Government is committed to doing.

Under their proposals:

Rural dwellers would pay a flat €100 per year.

Sites in towns with less than 10,000 people would be charged 55c per sqm.

Larger town sites would be charged 65c per sqm.

?And city dwellers would pay 75c per sqm, but Dublin city council areas would pay 85c per sqm.

"The provision and availability of publicly funded services increases as you move from rural to urban areas," the authors said.

The new database of property will allow the government levy the tax based on local authority boundaries.

"The tax will yield at least €300m in its initial year of 2013 and would average €175 per site," the paper said.

"The intention of any site value tax is to capture the underlying value of developed land. In general, the value of a site derives from its location and access to publicly funded or subsidised services, facilities and utilities."

They recommend deferral rather than exemption for those unable to pay. The deferred tax would become payable when the house was sold or transferred.

Brendan Keenan
Irish Independent


NAMA in debt talks with group of private hospitals

NAMA is in crucial debt talks with one of the country's largest private hospital groups which owns Dublin's Mount Carmel, St Joseph's of Sligo and Aut Even in Kilkenny.

Some of the loans taken out by the Mount Carmel Medical Group, backed by developer Gerald Conlan, have transferred into NAMA and discussions are described as being ongoing, with the hospital group trying to refinance the loans.

There is no certainty that these discussions with NAMA will be completed on a "commercially acceptable basis or at all',' states accounts for one of the firms which forms part of the Mount Carmel group.

The directors of the hospital group have cut costs and restructured the business and, with NAMA's support, all liabilities should be met as they fall due.


"The group has defaulted on certain of its bank facilities during the year ended December 31, 2009. The group is dependent on NAMA and its banks to continue to provide loan and working capital facilities and on the success of the group's restructuring plans and cost reduction initiatives,'' said state auditors to the subsidiary.

The group has debts with AIB and KBC and the loans with the former are likely to be the loans gone into NAMA. Security for the loans comes in different forms.

The life insurance policy of the chief shareholder in the company, Gerald Conlan, is among the items that have been assigned to the banks.

The last set of accounts for the main company show it made a loss of €48.6m during the year ended December 2008.

The main driver of the large losses was property and goodwill writedowns of €40m. On the plus side, the company continued to boost turnover.

The deficit in the shareholder's funds of the company came to €65.5m, a huge rise on the previous year.

Emmet Oliver, Deputy Business Editor
Irish Independent


Architects produce Clontarf sea wall images

IMAGES OF the Clontarf flood defence scheme’s likely impact on the seafront promenade have been produced for the first time since the controversial scheme was proposed by Dublin City Council four years ago.

“I think they give a very chilling and real indication of the loss of the promenade,” said Antoinette O’Neill, who collaborated with Davey + Smith Architects and 3RRR Architects in producing the series of photomontages.

The images have been produced to “redress the deficit of any visual representation by Dublin City Council and to afford people an opportunity to get some sense as to the alteration to the environment that may be expected”, the architects said.

They stressed the images of the council’s proposals “are an accurate representation based on the available technical data from DCC and its consultants”, culled from the 325-page environmental impact statement on the €10 million scheme.

The impact statement contained no photomontages.

The “before and after” images show the impact of the proposed embankment – which would be up to 2.75m (9ft) high – on the promenade between Oulton Road and Vernon Avenue.

Due to be uploaded today to the website clontarfresidents.com, the images include a photograph of the flood defences in Waterford, which involved erecting a steel-framed toughened glass wall along the quay to guard against flooding from the river Suir.

“An important objective for Waterford City Council was to maintain the view of the river Suir from the quay and the concept of the transparent flood barrier was developed,” according to engineer John Nolan, of the council’s environmental services section.

In the case of Clontarf, however, the proposed flood defences were combined with plans for a new arterial water main. Dublin City Council’s engineers are planning to lay this main on the existing surface and cover it with an embankment to protect against flooding.

Ms O’Neill said what was being proposed by the council – and approved by An Bord Pleanála – was “the cheapest method possible of laying a water main pipe by lying it along a promenade and hiding it under the ugliest flood relief works imaginable”.

She said it was ironic that Dublin had been shortlisted with Bilbao and Cape Town for the title World Design Capital 2014. “Bilbao has the spectacular Guggenheim . . . and Cape Town is a city renowned for its spectacular relationship with the sea.

“Dublin . . . is short on spectacle. But what it does have is its unique relationship with the water.

“From Howth to Dalkey, the land visually embraces the bay; it is one of the defining qualities of our capital city,” Ms O’Neill said.

Frank McDonald
Irish Times


Nama set to approve Hatch Hall sale

NAMA IS EXPECTED to give its approval shortly for the sale of Hatch Hall, the former Victorian university hall at Hatch Street in Dublin 2 (pictured). Agents Douglas Newman Good Commercial was recently offered close to the asking price of €6 million after inviting a number of parties to lodge “best bids”.

The estate agent was acting on the instructions of Galway developer Gerry Barrett whose development company Edward Holdings has had its loans transferred to Nama.

Barrett’s bought Hatch Hall in 2004 for €16 million with the intention of turning it into a five-star boutique hotel. The plan was blocked by An Bord Pleanála and he eventually settled for permission to convert it into 36 apartments.

There was intense competition between developers seeking to buy Hatch Hall from the Jesuit order when it was originally for sale near the peak of the property market. Barrett initially got planning approval from Dublin City Council to operate an 81-bedroom hotel on the site by more than doubling the size of the 2,787 sq m (30,000 sq ft) listed building.

This would have involved adding two storeys to the four-storey building along Hatch Lane and the provision of a swimming pool at basement level. It would also have seen the demolition of a section of the three/four-storey building at the junction of Hatch Lane and Hatch Place and replacing it with a seven-storey structure.

The planning appeals board railed against the plan, saying that the changes required to turn it into a hotel would involve alternations to the protected structure to an unacceptable level. It also said the seven-storey addition to the hall would be visually obtrusive.

Barrett subsequently got permission to convert the 83-bedroom student facility into 36 apartments with the option of using the chapel as a health and fitness centre. Hatch Hall dagtes from the early 1900s and was run as a student hall by the Jesuits for around 90 years.

It is currently used as a hostel for asylum seekers. The Department of Justice Equality is due to rent the centre for at least another year at an annual rent of €350,000.

Irish Times


Children's hospital hearing begins

A public hearing on plans for the proposed National Children’s Hospital on the grounds of the Mater Hospital Dublin began this morning.

An Bord Pleanála expects the hearing, which will hear evidence from more than 30 parties, will take three weeks to complete.

The hospital, which is expected to cost €650 million, would be able to accommodate clinical facilities for the provision of paediatric care, including 392 beds, 53 day care beds, 13 operating theatres, overnight beds for parents and a family resource centre.

The application also seeks to develop play areas, a school, external gardens and courtyards. The development, which is intended to be up to 16 storeys in height, is due for completion in late 2016.

Architects representing the National Children’s Hospital Development Board told the hearing that the site offered an opportunity to provide “world class” facilities in co-location with an adult hospital and eventually a maternity hospital.

Architect Clare White acknowledged that many submissions had raised concerns about the effect on the historic Georgian area, particularly protected structures.

“Almost every building on Eccles Street is a protected structure and we considered this context from the very outset,” she said.

Plans to locate a 16 storey “landmark” building on the site were consistent with Dublin City Council’s Local Area Plan, Ms White said.

The heights proposed for Eccles Street had been limited to four storeys rather than the six to 12 which would have been permitted by the council’s plan she said.

An eight storey block, set back from Eccles Street was planned but this would have “minimal impact on existing vistas or protected structures” and would be similar in height to the Mater Adult Hospital currently under construction.

The development would cause some overshadowing of Leo Street, off the North Circular Road, but this was “generally not considered to be significant”, she said.

The construction of the hospital at the Mater site is being opposed by a number of parties including local residents, An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society, Tallaght Hospital Action Group, and the New Children’s Hospital Alliance.

The alliance, which involves health professionals and parents of sick children, in its submission to the hearing said it would not be possible to maintain proper standards of care at the chosen site, and that alternative sites were not adequately considered.

An Taisce, the Georgian Society and local residents have said the facility’s height and scale would have an unacceptable impact on the historic core of the city. In its submission An Taisce said the proposed development was in “fundamental conflict” with the Dublin City Plan because it was “seriously over-scaled” and “damaging to the setting and integrity of protected structures”.

The site was inherently unsuitable for a new National Children’s Hospital because of its constricted nature an Taisce said. The scale, bulk and height of the proposed development, which would dominate the northside Georgian city and “should be rejected out of hand,” it said.

Dublin City Council supports the development but said it must be compensated for the resulting loss of on-street parking revenues.

Irish Times


Council says it will review flood plan

DUBLIN CITY Council is to review its flood defence plan for Clontarf promenade, following a meeting last week of the council’s north central area committee, attended by local residents and business people.

Council officials accepted that the public consultation process surrounding the controversial plan, which was approved by An Bord Pleanála in July 2008, was “minimal” and “didn’t work”.

Tenders for a contract estimated to be worth €9.7 million for the flood defences, with walls and embankments up to 2.75m high, together with a new arterial water main are being examined.

Assistant city manager Seamus Lyons pledged that no contract for the project would be signed over the next three weeks while officials “re-engage” with Clontarf residents and business associations.

However, he made it clear that the council could not go back to “square one”. He also stressed that if the council did not draw down funding for the project, it was “probable” that this would be lost.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and his party colleague Councillor Jane Horgan-Jones submitted a document to Minister of State for Planning Willie Penrose “outlining the deficiencies we see in the process”.

In a joint statement, both associations said there was no guarantee that the current plan would not go ahead, and there was now an onus on them to come up with an alternative in a “very short timeframe”.

They acknowledged offers of professional help already received and appealed to anyone with particular expertise in flood defence systems to get in touch by e-mail at info@clontarfresidents.com

Irish Times


Monday, 17 October 2011

Building slowdown stalls attempt to complete 2,000 'ghost' estates

WORK TO complete the State’s 2,000 unfinished housing developments has stalled due to a 40 per cent drop in on-site construction activity this year, according to the latest figures from the Department of the Environment.

However, the vacancy rate of completed houses on “ghost” estates has fallen by one-fifth since the department published its survey on the extent of the problem last year.

In addition, demolition has begun on estates were there is no prospect of completion, the department said.

Last October the department published its first national survey of the extent of the ghost estate problem, where developments are left unfinished and only a fraction of homes are occupied. It identified more than 2,800 unfinished or vacant housing estates.

A year on, some 700 estates have been completed and a further 100 on which no substantial work had started have been taken out of development, leaving a total of 2,066 “ghost” estates.

The 12-month period has seen a reduction in the vacancy rate of completed houses in these estates. Last year 23,250 houses were recorded as complete but vacant. This has now fallen to 18,638, a drop of about 20 per cent.

Carlow has the highest proportion of ghost estates, at 59 vacant units per 1,000 houses in the county, followed by 44 in Leitrim, 42 in Longford and 35 in Cavan. This compares with just three vacant houses for every 1,000 in Limerick city.

The highest number of vacant houses is in Cork with 2,363, or 19 for every 1,000 houses. Although there has been progress regarding selling or renting out properties, Minister of State for Housing Willie Penrose yesterday said he was concerned about the slowdown in construction. As a result, “many estates have been left in an incomplete and unsatisfactory state”, he said.

Of the 2,066 ghost estates, completion work was taking place on just 1,822.

Ensuring public safety on unfinished developments was a priority, Mr Penrose said. Some 247 estates were categorised as unsafe because of issues such as dangerous structures, uncovered manholes or unguarded building materials.

Of these, 20 are under the control of the National Asset Management Agency and a further 36 are being fixed by the developer or site owner.

Local authorities have applied to the department for funding to ensure the safety of 164 of these estates. A €5 million fund has been established for this work. To date, €2.10 million has been allocated to local authorities.

In a small number of cases, local authorities have decided to demolish estates where there is no hope of the developments being completed or where half-built structures have been exposed to the elements for so long that they would no longer be sound.

The department has granted Wexford County Council funding to demolish houses at the Coill na Giuise estate in Gorey, and has also approved funding to Laois County Council to demolish a three-storey apartment block at Corrig Glen, Portarlington.

Demolition work not funded by the department has also taken place in Westmeath, where three almost complete houses at Ballinagore were razed, and in Ballina, where six apartments at Quignalecka on the Sligo Road were torn down.

North Tipperary County Council is also planning to demolish the Terrace estate at Ardan, Nenagh Road, Borrisokane. Demolition would always be a “last resort”, Mr Penrose said, but it was likely that further estates would have to be razed on the guidance of local authorities.

Irish Times


Gilmore built on site he had probed as a councillor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore asked a series of official planning questions when he was a county councillor about a site he later bought and on which he built his family home, the Irish Independent has learned.

This was despite previous planning rulings, which found that the site at Corbawn Close in Shankill, Co Dublin, was "unsuitable" for a house.

Mr Gilmore also initiated legal proceedings against one neighbour who objected to his application.

The replies to his planning queries suggested that an application for a two-storey house might at that point be looked upon favourably.

He and his wife Carol Hanney subsequently applied for -- and were granted -- permission for a two-storey house, where they still live.

A number of years earlier, an application for a two-storey house had been refused on the basis that the site was unsuitable for the building of any house.

Mr Gilmore said the questions were publicly available and insisted that his application had been made in the normal way.

The 1994 planning application, lodged when he was months away from becoming a junior minister, was granted by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and approved by An Bord Pleanala.


Mr Gilmore was a Dun Laoghaire councillor for the Workers' Party on the now-defunct Dublin County Council in the late 1980s and asked a series of questions about the Shankill site between then and the early 1990s.

The application says Mr Gilmore entered into a contract to buy the site and the sale was finalised in 1995.

Mr Gilmore was elected to the council in 1985. At the time, he was living in a smaller house in the Corbawn Close estate.

At a meeting of a housing and planning district sub-committee in April 1987, he asked "what consideration has been given . . . to the various options regarding the site".

He was told:

?That it was possible an application for "a two-storey dwelling might not give rise to the same volume of objection as the proposal for the bungalow".

?That the site was "not considered suitable for use as public open space".

?That it "has been examined by the derelict sites section but it is not considered to be derelict".

At a meeting of the district sub-committee in July 1987, Mr Gilmore asked "what arrangements, if any, were made with the developer . . . and what consideration was given to the future of that site?"

He was told by the council that the "dimensions of the site . . . suggest that a two-storey dwelling could be accommodated".

Mr Gilmore insists the replies to "these questions have always been public information and are available in the published minutes".

He added: "The abandoned condition of the site had been a matter of concern in the neighbourhood for some years and because of this I was asked by neighbours to raise questions about it."

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent
Irish Independent


NRA hires experts to examine Drum flooding concerns

The National Roads Authority (NRA) has appointed consultants to examine flooding problems in South Roscommon which may have been caused by the construction of the M6 Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway.

After the motorway was constructed, Curraghboy councillor Tony Ward started receiving phonecalls from residents in the Drum area who said land which had previously been able to absorb rainwater was now flooding after 10-12 hours of rainfall.
Cllr Ward believes that the size of culverts which were installed beneath the new M6 motorway at Drum was not adequate and that this has contributed to flooding in the nearby townlands of Taduff East and Mihanbee.

Roscommon County Council stated last June that it had requested funding to carry out a flood study in the area, and Cllr Ward asked for an update on the situation at last week's meeting of the local authority's Athlone Area committee.
The council replied: "Issues have arisen in relation to culverts and drainage at Taduff and Ballydangan. Consultants have been appointed to examine the issues and liaise with land owners. The consultants' report will be submitted to the NRA in November 2011.

"Funding will be provided by the NRA for the consultants and also in the event that further works are required as a result of the consultants' recommendation."
Cllr Ward welcomed the fact that the report was being drafted, but he said this was a problem which had arisen because the views of local farmers and landowners hadn't been listened to when the culverts beneath the motorway were being installed in the first place.

He added that a possible solution to the problems involved cleaning the Cross River in South Roscommon and widening some of the culverts in the Drum area.

The Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway was constructed at a cost of €211 million was officially opened in the summer of 2009.

The Westmeath Independent


NRA hires experts to examine Drum flooding concerns

The National Roads Authority (NRA) has appointed consultants to examine flooding problems in South Roscommon which may have been caused by the construction of the M6 Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway.

After the motorway was constructed, Curraghboy councillor Tony Ward started receiving phonecalls from residents in the Drum area who said land which had previously been able to absorb rainwater was now flooding after 10-12 hours of rainfall.
Cllr Ward believes that the size of culverts which were installed beneath the new M6 motorway at Drum was not adequate and that this has contributed to flooding in the nearby townlands of Taduff East and Mihanbee.

Roscommon County Council stated last June that it had requested funding to carry out a flood study in the area, and Cllr Ward asked for an update on the situation at last week's meeting of the local authority's Athlone Area committee.
The council replied: "Issues have arisen in relation to culverts and drainage at Taduff and Ballydangan. Consultants have been appointed to examine the issues and liaise with land owners. The consultants' report will be submitted to the NRA in November 2011.

"Funding will be provided by the NRA for the consultants and also in the event that further works are required as a result of the consultants' recommendation."
Cllr Ward welcomed the fact that the report was being drafted, but he said this was a problem which had arisen because the views of local farmers and landowners hadn't been listened to when the culverts beneath the motorway were being installed in the first place.

He added that a possible solution to the problems involved cleaning the Cross River in South Roscommon and widening some of the culverts in the Drum area.

The Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway was constructed at a cost of €211 million was officially opened in the summer of 2009.

The Westmeath Independent


West coast wind farm to bypass local planning process

A €100 million, 400ft-high wind farm planned for west Clare is to bypass the planning process.

It follows a Bord Pleanála ruling that the plan by Clare Coastal Wind Power for a 46-turbine wind farm on two sites near the coast is considered strategic infrastructure and, as a result, will be considered by the appeals board.

The sites for the wind farm are located 1km south of Doonbeg and 3km to the north of Kilrush.

The plan is 50% larger than the largest planning application for a wind farm to date in the mid-west, granted at Mount Callan, where planning permission was given for 30 turbines last month by An Bord Pleanála.

Clare Coastal Wind Power had its first pre-application consultation in August last year with An Bord Pleanála.

According to the inspector’s report in the case, the applicants state that the plan would be of strategic economic or social importance to the state or the region in terms of benefits to the local economy in providing electricity; the annual reduction of 207,000 tonnes of CO2 and displacement of use of fossil fuel generation of an annual energy equivalent production from 77,280 tonnes of oil.

The applicants also said that "the development would contribute substantially to the fulfilment of any of the objectives in the National Spatial Strategy or in any regional planning guidelines by assisting in meeting goals in relation to sustainable energy".

The applicants must now prepare and lodge an Environmental Impact Statement and application with An Bord Pleanála, where third parties will also have opportunities to make submissions.

To date, planning has been granted for 100 turbines in west Clare.

Irish Examiner


Zoned land sells for €16,000 an acre

The sale of 35ac of industrial zoned lands at Athy, Co Kildare, was probably the first sale of commercially zoned lands at agricultural values.

The property was guided at €15,000/ac and it made an extra €1,000/ac on the day when Jordan Auctioneers last week sold it at auction for €552,000 at the Clanard Hotel, Athy.

The land, which has planning permission for retail warehousing, is located just off the N78 Athy to Kilkenny road adjacent to Minch Norton, Tegral and the Business Campus. The property is only a short distance from Athy town centre and can be accessed via two existing agricultural gateways.

In farming terms the land is described as good ground suitable for tillage or grazing. Laid out in four divisions, it is reasonably well fenced and has a ready water supply.

About 20 people attended the auction and the property opened with an initial bid of €200,000. With three active bidders in contention the price increased in increments of €50,000 until it was put on the market at €535,000. Two final bidders fought to the finish and when the hammer came down at €552,000 the land became the property of a local farmer.

Jim O'Brien
Irish Independent


Zoned land sells for €16,000 an acre

The sale of 35ac of industrial zoned lands at Athy, Co Kildare, was probably the first sale of commercially zoned lands at agricultural values.

The property was guided at €15,000/ac and it made an extra €1,000/ac on the day when Jordan Auctioneers last week sold it at auction for €552,000 at the Clanard Hotel, Athy.

The land, which has planning permission for retail warehousing, is located just off the N78 Athy to Kilkenny road adjacent to Minch Norton, Tegral and the Business Campus. The property is only a short distance from Athy town centre and can be accessed via two existing agricultural gateways.

In farming terms the land is described as good ground suitable for tillage or grazing. Laid out in four divisions, it is reasonably well fenced and has a ready water supply.

About 20 people attended the auction and the property opened with an initial bid of €200,000. With three active bidders in contention the price increased in increments of €50,000 until it was put on the market at €535,000. Two final bidders fought to the finish and when the hammer came down at €552,000 the land became the property of a local farmer.

Jim O'Brien
Irish Independent


Nama may be forced to deliver on social housing

THE GOVERNMENT is considering plans to amend legislation that would oblige the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) to deliver more social housing and public amenities.

Nama, created to purge banks of toxic property loans, has purchased some €31 billion of loans connected to thousands of residential properties – loans valued at over €72 billion at the height the property bubble.

There is frustration in some circles of Government that the agency is not under any formal obligation to provide a “social dividend”.

Minister for Housing Willie Penrose is understood to have written to the Attorney General in recent weeks seeking clarity on how Nama’s terms of reference could be changed to give it a broader remit that goes beyond securing the best achievable financial return for the State.

Officials fear the agency is too focused on its commercial remit to generate profits and feel the State is at risk of losing out on opportunities to maximise the social benefit of large landbanks and thousands of residential properties. However, a spokesman for Nama yesterday insisted the agency was mindful of meeting social needs where it made commercial sense.

He pointed out Nama had facilitated the purchase of almost 60 apartments in Sandyford recently by a voluntary housing association which are being made available for social and affordable housing.

In addition, Nama’s spokesman said the agency was reviewing its portfolio of residential units to identify others that may be suitable for social housing purposes.

Nama is linked to an estimated 10,000 residential units, the majority of which are apartments or duplex units.

Latest figures show the scale of the need for social housing has reached a record high of 98,000 households, as the Government says it does not have funds to buy or build local authority housing.

In addition, pressure is growing on homeless services, while demand for social housing is set to increase as the State moves to close outdated institutions which house thousands with disabilities or mental health problems.

The Act which established Nama requires the agency to obtain the “best achievable financial return for the State” having regard to the cost to the exchequer of acquiring and dealing with bank assets. While it is a listed functionto “contribute to the economic and social recovery of the State”, there is no reference in the legislation to a social dividend or supporting the planning and sustainable development of the State.

Any attempt to make Nama’s remit broader is likely to require legislative change. While the Minister for Finance is able to confer additional functions on the agency, he does not have the power to impose additional objectives, such as the delivery of social housing, education, public transport or public health dividends.

Government sources say that if its remit was changed, Nama could transfer land or housing developments to local authorities or other bodies who would be in better position to get the best long-term outcome for the State as a whole.

They say how Nama disposes of its properties will be crucial to the State’s long-term development.

Irish Times