Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sisters of Charity claim lands targeted by city council

THE IMPOSITION of more restrictive conditions on development of certain lands in the new development plan for Dublin appears “targeted” at lands owned by religious institutions, the Sisters of Charity have claimed before the Commercial Court.

Dublin City Council has failed to give any rational reason why the restrictive Z15 zoning designation was imposed on property totalling 108 acres owned by the order and not on certain other lands, the order’s counsel, Brian Murray SC, argued.

The order claims the Z15 designation means future uses such as housing development are not open for planning consideration with consequent adverse implications for their property rights and ability to sell land to fund their activities.

Mr Murray said his client wanted to know why the council believed the lands zoned Z15 – including open space lands adjoining the order’s convent and schools in Sandymount – should be zoned in a restrictive way compared with other open space lands.

The council contended the Z15 zoning, entitled “Community and Institutional Resource Lands (Education, Recreation, Community, Green Infrastructure and Health)” was in the common good and for the benefit of the community and neighbourhood but this did not meet the requirement to provide “clear categorisation”, justification and “clear rational evidence” before subjecting lands to such a restrictive zoning, he argued.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Christmas markets in docklands

Dublin’s docklands is to get a third Christmas market from tomorrow when 40 stalls start trading in the redbrick former railway station facing onto the city quays beside the Convention Centre and PwC offices. The Christmas market continues until January 22nd when arrangements will be made to run an urban market there on a daily basis.

Read the details @ The Irish Times

McNamara behind mysterious 'Achill-henge'

THE MAN who was arrested after he drove a cement mixer against the gates of Leinster House is responsible for a Stonehenge-type structure on a hilltop on Achill Island.

Developer Joe McNamara had been before the High Court in Dublin on Monday, where he gave undertakings demanded by Mayo County Council that he would cease unauthorised road construction in an area of scenic value on Achill Island. It was not explained what exactly he was doing.

Now it has emerged that Mr McNamara is behind the clandestine project on the hilltop. Construction appeared to continue over the weekend, often in fading light, with locals oblivious as to what was being built.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Minister casts doubt on plan to demolish protected shops

PLANS TO demolish a pair of historical buildings in Ennistymon, Co Clare, to make room for a roundabout on the road to Lahinch would be “contrary to the thrust” of the 2000 Planning Act, Clare County Council was told.

Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan said his department had advised the council that any proposal to demolish and rebuild the protected structures at Blake’s Corner, set back from the current building line, would “require strong justification”.

In a written reply to Michael McNamara TD (Labour), he said it would also require “a robust and detailed methodology that demonstrated that such an approach is both feasible and appropriate without any further loss of character than is absolutely necessary”.

The two mid-19th century buildings, with Liscannor-slated roofs and original shopfronts, were listed by the county council as protected structures several years ago after featuring in books on Irish vernacular architecture and posters of historical shopfronts.

Mr Deenihan said his department had also advised the council that “if the envisaged removal and set back were to proceed, a sustainable and suitable new use would have to be found for both structures” that took into account a potential increase in traffic.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Cork Port to resubmit plans for terminal

THE Port of Cork is preparing to resubmit a planning application for a scaled-down container terminal in Ringaskiddy which the company hopes will be fully operational by 2020.
Port of Cork officials say they hope to submit the planning application under the Strategic Infrastructure Act, which means the decision will be made by Bord Pleanála, rather than Cork County Council.

Port officials have already started pre-planning consultations with Bord Pleanála and are also talking with various interest groups around the harbour in the hope of ironing out any problems in advance of submitting the application.

The new plan is significantly scaled back from one which was rejected two years ago by the appeals body.

That plan focussed on building a €220 million container terminal at the Oysterbank in Ringaskiddy.

Now the port authority is planning to develop the container point in Ringaskiddy on the eastern and western sides of the basin.

It will be only half the size of the original plan and will involve substantially less land reclamation than would have been needed to develop the Oysterbank site.

Read the article @ The Irish Examiner

Oral hearing on incinerator only way to solve 'stalemate'

REOPENING AN oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála into a planned €160 million twin incinerator project for Cork is the only way an existing “stalemate” over waste disposal in the area can be resolved, according to a senior executive with the firm behind the project.

Indaver Ireland commercial director Jackie Keaney said Indaver had reluctantly opted to seek judicial review of An Bord Pleanála’s decision of June 2011 to refuse planning permission for its twin incinerators at Ringaskiddy, but it felt it had no other option.

Indaver, she said, believed the board made its decision without taking account of crucial new information regarding Cork County Council’s waste strategy that came to light 12 months prior to the board making its final decision.

“That new information was that Cork County Council was exiting the waste market, that its MBT facility was terminated and that the council’s landfill site at Bottlehill would not proceed, and it was all signalled as far back as July 2010,” she said, adding Indaver was anxious this information was available to the board and twice wrote to it, but still does not know whether the information was provided to the board’s inspector.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Galway port plan will have to be redrawn

GALWAY Harbour Company will have to redraw its plans for a €200 million deepwater port, due to a failure to secure necessary approvals for preliminary investigations.

The ambitious plan, which intended to build on the success of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover, was due to have been submitted directly to the planning appeals board some months ago under the Strategic Infrastructure Act.

However, the harbour company was advised that site investigation works for the application were conducted without first securing full approval for a foreshore licence from the Department of the Environment.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is said to have been informed of the setback, which is expected to delay submission of a planning application to An Bord Pleanála until the middle of next year.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Friday, 25 November 2011

Flagship DIT site to proceed if planning granted

THE FLAGSHIP regeneration project for the 30-hectare Grangegorman site in Dublin’s north inner city will definitely go ahead if the project gets planning permission, a Bord Pleanála hearing was told yesterday.

Michael Hand, chief executive of the Grangegorman Development Agency, told the planning hearing much had been said about the recent decision of the Government to postpone funding for the project.

But Mr Hand said exchequer funding for the redevelopment would amount to 20 per cent of the development, and quoted Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to the effect that the “Government is committed to the long-term funding of this project”.

In the meantime he said there were “multiple” avenues of funding that could be tapped to begin the project, which included the relocation of constituent colleges of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT); establishing a range of Health Service Executive healthcare facilities on site; and creating a new urban quarter.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Tesco loses appeal on Penneys plans

TESCO HAS lost its appeal against the proposed multi-million development by Penneys in O'Connell Street, Sligo, including its current store and the former TSB Bank together with portion of car park at rear of its its current premises.

Bod Pleanala has informed the parties of its decision, with 20 conditions attached. Five conditions describe development levies which must be prepaid or (usually) paid in phased payments by Penneys to Sligo Borough Council, totalling just short of 1.5 million euro. These include Condition No 17 which imposes a levy of 1.22 million euro "in respect of car parking facilities benefitting development in the area of the planning authority."

Prior to the commencement of development Penneys has to submit and agree proposals with Sligo Borough Council planners to cater for people with disabilities, including wheelchair accessability.

The recent ruling also confirms that a separate pedestrian access route from Wine Street car park to Johnston Court and Tesco shall be maintained at a width of 1.5 metres at all times.

Other conditions signed off by An Bord Pleanala include requirement for a a demolition management plan, in line with 2006 ''best practice'' Irish guideines, including details of waste to be generated during site clearance.

Penneys plan a new store of 52,000 square feet across two storeys fronting O'Connell Street, rising to four storeys over a basement story at the rear of extended site.

Tesco lodged its appeal with Pleanala last summer, citing almost one dozen grounds of objection after Sligo Borough Council had granted permission on June 9th last. Tesco objections included the need for a new Master Plan in the vicinity due to the changed ecoomic climate, possible major negative impact on traders in the area - it even suggested that Penneys was engaged in "premature and piecemeal" development - loss of car parking spaces and relocation of these would have severe impact on Tesco, both in access terms and in visibility terms.

The appeal also complained of the potential for anti-social behaviour in the space between the completed Tesco and Penneys Store. Tesco also said that the development posed a threat to the existing jobs in its own store in the Arcade.

Board Pleanala has now ruled that Penneys proposal complied in particular with the Centre Block Master Plan, which, it noted, includes "the provision of bulk service access from the west and the provision of multi storey car parking.

Read the article @ Sligo Today

Fears over gas terminal project

KERRY County Council is seeking a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss ongoing delays with plans for a €500 million gas terminal project on the Shannon Estuary.

The project proposed by Shannon LNG (Liquid Natural Gas), which dates to 2006 and which has already been granted planning permission, has been beset by hurdles.

The Commissioner for Energy Regulation (CER) has told Shannon LNG it will have to pay a €10m tariff per year towards the operation and maintenance of gas interconnectors with Britain, but the company is refusing, saying it will not use the interconnectors.

Up to 350 jobs would be created in Tarbert during the build and there would be 50 jobs on completion.

The company plans to import liquefied natural gas by tanker to the terminal where it will be stored in huge tanks. A 30km pipeline will transport the gas to the national grid.

Read the article @ The Irish Examiner

City ‘must improve its flood defences’

TWO years after large parts of the city were submerged by some of the worst flooding the country has even seen, Cork still has not implemented adequate flood prevention measures, it has been claimed.
Cork Chamber has called on the various stakeholders to "urgently address the key issues required to restore public confidence" that the city is adequately protected.

The chamber said it was concerned by the length of time being taken to identify and implement measures necessary to safeguard and protect against future major flooding.

Conor Healy, its chief executive, called for:

* Completion of repairs to the quay walls damaged during the 2009 devastation.

* Completion of the current Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and management modelling study and report, including the presentation and costing of the recommended measures for future flood protection.

* Preparation of a detailed implementation plan including prioritisation of works based on an informed cost/ benefit analysis."

"The severe flooding event in November 2009 highlighted Cork’s liability to severe flooding and the significant risks posed to the residential and business communities of the city and affected areas of the lower Lee catchment," Mr Healy said. "The chamber proposes the Government should put in place the necessary funding for the required package of flood defences to protect Cork city from future flood events.

"The provision of such infrastructural funding is a worthwhile investment in the context of the losses after the November 2009 flood event."

A warning system such as Cork County Council’s Bandon Flood Early Warning System should be put in place in Cork city, he said.

"We urge member companies to undertake a review of their own flood protection measures.

"Cork Chamber urges all of those charged with the responsibility for protecting the city to redouble their efforts to restore the confidence of the business community that sufficient action has been taken to investigate the causes and prevent the same thing happening again. We hope the local authorities will update people and businesses on the state of preparedness for flooding."

On November 19, 2009, millions of tonnes of water were released by the ESB from its Inniscarra dam above Cork city, engulfing vast swathes of the city centre and causing an estimated €100 million damage.

A civic emergency had to be declared as 80,000 people — half the city’s population — were left without drinking water.

Read the article @ The Irish Examiner

Hogan defends shopping centre sizes

DRAFT GUIDELINES for the size of new shopping centres that were published yesterday do not represent the death knell of smaller towns and village centres, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has insisted.

They follow a commitment by the Government to give consideration to removing existing limits on the size of new superstores and out-of-town shopping centres as part of the EU-IMF bailout agreed last year.

The main aspects of the draft guidelines published by Mr Hogan yesterday are:

- A rise in the size of allowable retail floorspace from 3,500sq m to 4,000sq m in the Dublin area; A rise in the size of allowable retail floorspace from 3,000sq m to 3,500sq m in the regional cities of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford;

- The retail warehouse floorspace cap is to be maintained at 6,000sq m, but with exemptions allowed in the numerous National Spatial Strategy gateway cities and towns;

- Petrol filling station shop floorspace cap is to be maintained at 100sq m irrespective of location.

- Elsewhere in the State, the limit remains at 3,000sq m.

Commenting on the new draft guidelines yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Hogan pointed out that the previous limit in the Dublin area, that of 3,500sq m, applied to the Greater Dublin Area – a geographical area including parts of Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. However, he said the new guidelines would increase the size to 4,000sq m only in Dublin. In Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, the proposed cap is to be 3,000sq m. “That is actually a drop in the allowable size in Meath, Kildare and Wicklow,” he said.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Nama to put 750 homes on market in new year

THE NATIONAL Asset Management Agency is planning to press ahead with controversial plans to put 750 homes on the market early next year as part of a negative equity protection scheme.

The agency does not need Government approval to proceed, but says it “wants to bring all relevant stakeholders into the process”.

Informed sources say Nama is finalising plans on how the scheme will operate with special mortgages available through three banks, AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB.

While it is piloting the sale of 750 homes, the agency has signalled that it would like to sell up to 5,000 homes. The plan created controversy after former minister for housing Willie Penrose expressed concern it was contrary to Government policy and could artificially inflate the property market before it hits the bottom.

The scheme works by waiving 20 per cent of the purchase price of a home if its value continues to fall over the next five years.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Sligo Borough Council wants some of NAMA housing stock

1978 WAS globally known as 'the year of the three Popes' and it looks like 2011 will be known, in Ireland anyway, as 'the year of the three Ministers for Housing.'

Indeed so many houses were built in the past decade the case could be argued for even having three Ministers in post at the one time.

However, when the latest Minister is appointed, he/she will finding waiting a Motion from Sligo Borough Council to reflect the fact that over six hundred people are officially homeless in the Borough.

Considering a report from the Borough Council's Housing Officer at this week's November General Purposes meeting, it also emerged only eight houses have been acquired currently in the long-term leasing scheme, which was recently introduced as national policy.

Read the article @ Sligo Today

Monday, 21 November 2011

Green light for €80m town centre

THE planning appeals body has given the green light to a new €80m town centre development for Carlow town.

An Bord Pleanala made its decision on the application by Donnybrook Property Investments Ltd for the site.

The approval is a positive sign in tough economic times and is set to create hundreds of jobs once it gets under way.

Penneys is currently situated at the site at Hanover, which was once a thriving shopping centre, but became run down and saw many businesses close in recent years.

But Carlow County Council believes the development will help to entice shoppers into the heart of the town, back from the outskirts where Tesco is located in the Fairgreen centre.

Read the full article @ The Irish Independent

Urban regeneration: Council buys Limerick Opera shopping centre site from Nama

LIMERICK CITY Council has bought the site of the proposed Opera shopping centre in Limerick city centre from the National Asset Management Agency.

The property was bought at the peak of the boom for €110 million in a joint venture deal between Anglo Irish Bank’s private banking division and Regeneration Developments, which is owned by developers Jerry O’Reilly, Terry Sweeney and David Courtney, former owners of retailer Superquinn.

Frequently cited as one of the most excessive property deals of the boom, the site was returned to the market in September at a price of €12.5 million.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

First stage of €240m Eirgrid tender closes

STATE AGENCY Eirgrid is in the final stages of tendering for consultants and engineers to work on the first phase of a €240 million investment in the Republic’s key electricity network in the west of Ireland.

Eirgrid is an independent entity that manages the national grid and network that transmits electricity from power plants to the distribution system. Another State company, the ESB, owns the grid.

It is evaluating tenders from bidders interested in contracts for the initial engineering, environmental, technical and public consultation work on the project.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Friday, 18 November 2011

Clontarf locals reject flood proposal

Any of the proposals originally put to Dublin City Council for flood defences in Clontarf, other than the one eventually selected by the council, would be acceptable to the local residential and businesses associations.

The associations have said that they would be in favour of an option that would see the level of the seawall raised along with the promenade footpath. Instead the council has chosen to raise a grass embankment between the road and promenade.

A spokeswoman for the residents association said today that both options provide the same level of flood defence and that both were presented to the council by the Dutch engineering firm who presented four options to the council.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Redesigned flood defences for Clontarf

Redesigned plans for flood defences to protect Clontarf from the sea are being presented by Dublin City Council to residents in a series of briefings.

The council plans to lower the height of the planned defences from the maximum of 2.75m permitted by An Bord Pleanála to a maximum of 2.17m. Residents remain opposed to their construction on the grounds that they would ruin the local amenity and the views of Dublin Bay.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Building of houses 'at a standstill'

NEW house building has come to a standstill in many counties.

According to statistics from the Department of Environment -- based on figures submitted by Homebond -- in 15 counties in September, no new house registrations were recorded.

The figures show that for the entire year to the end of September, Homebond has recorded no new house registrations in Leitrim and Longford, while Cavan recorded only one. Monaghan, Roscommon and Westmeath each recorded three.

Registrations are lodged with Homebond when work commences on new homes.

The department figures show that no new house registrations were recorded in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Kerry, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, Wicklow, Westmeath, Roscommon, Offaly, Laois, Leitrim, Louth and Waterford during September.

Read the article @ The Irish Independent

Councillors sign off on €90m regeneration plan

A REVISED €90 million regeneration plan for one of Cork’s most disadvantaged areas has been adopted, paving the way for the construction of hundreds of new council homes.
But the new Northwest Regeneration Masterplan for Knocknaheeny, Hollyhill and parts of Churchfield will need "considerable and consistent" state funding over many years to be fully realised.

City manager Tim Lucey said despite the difficult economic conditions, the council is in a strong position to secure the required funding after adopting the plan before the year end.

The masterplan will be submitted to the Department of Environment for funding.

Read the article @ The Irish Examiner

Monday, 14 November 2011

New site for DIT faces the axe in cutbacks

THE Government is axing a planned new college for Dublin Institute of Technology on the site of the old Grangegorman hospital.

It will be among a series of projects cut as part of drastic changes to the capital spending programme up to 2016.

Among them are five rail projects on which the State has already spent more than €225m.

Iarnrod Eireann and the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) spent the money planning and designing underground railway systems and Luas light-rail projects for Dublin, which were expected to cost more than €5bn to build.

Read the article at

Corrib gas rights watchdog removed

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL and Front Line Defenders have withdrawn their human rights observer appointed to monitor policing at the Corrib gas project in north Mayo, on completion of her six-month term of duty.

Australian observer Sarah Bassiuoni spent her last day as observer on the project on Friday, when Shell to Sea staged a demonstration at the Corrib gas pipeline work site at Aughoose and later outside the refinery at Ballinaboy.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

No liberty to remove holy statue

THE REMOVAL of a large Christian statue from over the main entrance to the Killarney Community Hospital was done without planning permission, planning authorities have ruled.

The statue was removed and, after a storm of criticism, placed alongside the hospital at ground level.

The removal in March 2010, without community consultation, caused uproar. The Bishop of Kerry publicly questioned health and safety reasons put forward by the hospital’s health managers.

At one stage there was a threat of a march on the hospital. The Killarney Soroptimists women’s group called on the hospital to replace the statue.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Paragraph dropped from review on hospital location

THE FINAL report of a review of controversial plans for the Children’s Hospital of Ireland – commissioned last May by Minister for Health Dr James Reilly – dropped a paragraph saying a greenfield site would be “the ideal location” for the project.

The review endorsed plans to provide the 585-bed facility on the Mater hospital site in Dublin. A 14-day oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála on the scheme concluded last week, and it is expected the appeals board will issue its decision early next year.

The review panel’s chairman, Jonathan Erskine, told fellow members he had removed the relevant paragraph because of his concern that, if it was included, “the response will simply be that there is such an ideal site, and the issue will open up again”.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Costs to State for scrapped metro project to top €150m

TRANSPORT: THE DECISION not to proceed with the Metro North rail project as part of the 2012-2016 capital investment programme will cost the State more than €150 million, including compensation to the project bidders.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar yesterday confirmed that Dublin’s cross-city Luas line would be the only “big ticket” project to go ahead in the next five years, with the Metro and Dart Underground postponed indefinitely.

The Department of Transport will spend €4,646 million on capital projects over the next five years, a cut of €1,045 million on the National Recovery Plan figures published just one year ago.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Final cost of Corrib Gas project set to be close to €3 billion

THE FINAL cost of the controversial Corrib Gas project is now set to be close to €3 billion and it may be late 2014 before gas is finally flowing from the field.

The revised cost estimate emerges from documents just filed with the companies office here by Shell EP Ireland Ltd.

The accounts show the total outlay on the project to the end of December 2010 was €2.16 billion.

Read the article @ The Irish Times

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Paying for water

THE FLOODS last month may have prompted the knee-jerk response that Ireland has a surfeit of water, so why should the Government charge for it?

It must be recognised, however, that treating water for human consumption is an expensive business and that much of the water we use is wasted – primarily because it is perceived as a “free” resource. Just as many people discovered the value of recycling when charges were imposed on household waste, charges for water consumption should – at least in theory – provide a real incentive for conservation, in line with a broader definition of the “polluter pays” principle.

But what the Government is planning to do is to impose a flat-rate levy on all households, irrespective of whether they use water wisely or profligately. Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan argues that this is necessary in the short term to raise extra revenue pending the installation of water meters in every one of Ireland’s 1.4 million homes – a mammoth task that could take several years. It is also likely to run into opposition from those who see water charges as a form of “double taxation”; the Socialist Party has pledged to lead a “mass campaign of civil disobedience” against any water charges and, one may presume, the installation of meters.

An assessment of our water sector by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that there were no consistent policies, no standards, no consumer protection and no economic regulation as well as fragmented leadership, poor co-ordination and duplication of management. But it also highlighted some strengths, notably the fact that local authorities are accountable, close to their consumer base and can mobilise resources in time of need. One wonders what the Government’s plan to replace them with a central body, Irish Water, will mean in terms of rapid response to local emergencies.

Writing in The Irish Times last August, the ESRI’s Richard Tol argued correctly that a flat water charge would be unfair and, once introduced, it “may be with us for a long time”. Rather than relying on Irish Water, “a company that does not yet exist”, to oversee the installation of water meters at an overall cost of more than €1 billion, Tol made a modest proposal that householders could have meters installed much more cheaply themselves and recoup their investment by getting vouchers for free water.

Given the parlous state of the public finances, this proposal is surely worth considering.

Irish Times

Any salvation for Cork church?

With a renewed interest in the English Market next door, the possible linking of the church with the market is being explored

IF A building like Princes Street Church was in a city such as Boston, it’s unlikely it would be hidden behind locked gates with paint peeling off its walls. Few other tourist cities would choose to conceal stunning early 18th-century windows behind an unsightly false partition, or hide entirely a semi-circular 300-year-old-gallery with original staircase, which until recently was visited only by flocks of pigeons. But such is our sometimes cavalier attitude towards heritage in Ireland, that Princes Street Church, probably one of the most historically important religious buildings in Cork city, remains in a poor state of repair with time running out for a long-term solution to its problems.

Ask most Cork people where the city’s sole Unitarian church is located and many would struggle to tell you. The church, located beside the Princes Street entrance to the English Market, is one of the oldest religious buildings still serving its original purpose.

The church was completed in 1717, as the Unitarian congregation in the city outgrew its original premises near South Main Street. It became known as the “New Meeting House” and was one of the first buildings to be built on reclaimed marsh to the east of the medieval walls of Cork. At the time it would have stood out architecturally until the city’s expansion caught up with it.

It is older than the newly revamped Triskel Christchurch, and took around five years to construct, as hard rock and rubble had to be brought into the area to secure the foundations and reclaim the land.

“It was one of the first buildings built outside the old medieval city walls,” says Cork Unitarian Fritz Spengeman, who has offered to show me around. “In the 1690s the old medieval walls were breached during the Williamite wars and after the destruction of large portions of those city walls, people began to build to the east and to the west. This was one of the first buildings along the eastern marsh.”

Originally the pulpit was on the west wall facing east and a pillar, door and gate stood perfectly in line from there to the street outside. Now, the interior is in a poor state, with parts of the gallery panelling missing, and a 1970s portioned ceiling giving the main hall a somewhat suppressed feeling. Dividing interior walls were installed 100 years ago, as the congregation got smaller and the gallery and adjoining wings were no longer needed.

The stairs leading to the gallery is in poor repair and hidden behind a material partition. At the top though is surely one of the most authentic early 18th-century rooms left in Cork city, with huge exposed beams detailing robust Cork craftsmanship. In one corner two chairs are kept amid piles of dusty boxes and Christmas decorations. These two ornate chairs are thought to have come from the previous Unitarian church, which would mean they were made sometime in the 1600s.

Downstairs, there is no pulpit anymore as the ornate original was removed at some point in the past 30 years. Where it went or who took it are unclear. Yet, despite the obvious need for refurbishment, the building is utterly historic and charming. Windows are of an unusual oval shape and the back door leads directly onto the back wall of the English Market. Outside, where the clink of cutlery on plates from the Farmgate restaurant can be heard, is a four-foot high wall in one corner. This, I’m told, was a public toilet circa 1700. The exterior of the building to one side contains the original rubble wall construction.

Fritz Spengeman, and 20 members of the Unitarian church left in Cork, are now hoping to finally put in place a financial master plan for the complete refurbishment of the church. But the building has been at a crossroads before.

Inside the main hall, a report from a Cork newspaper in 1958 hangs on one wall. It has a picture of the inside of the church with the headline stating “Church to be a supermarket”. Mrs Marjory Thompson of Blackrock Road is pictured sitting in the pews, and described as the only remaining Unitarian left in the city at that time. The paper reported that a grocery chain which was planning to convert it into a supermarket had bought the church. Thankfully, the plan never went ahead as the building was listed.

Once Mrs Thompson left the city, the building saw little Unitarian activity until the 1990s, when a small group, including Fritz Spengeman, resumed weekly services. To earn its keep, from time to time the building is let out to local groups, and used for a variety of events, from experimental rock concerts to craft fairs. Some essential works have been carried out through the assistance of Cork City Council, Cork City Planning Office and the Heritage Council. The pigeons have been evicted and much of the rising damp in the walls has been treated.

With renewed interest in the English Market next door, following the recent visit of Queen Elizabeth II, a link-up between the church and the market is one of the possibilities being explored.

“We have a small congregation here. Since 2003 we have spent about €330,000 on this place and have done a lot of work,” explains Fritz. “Many of the windows were broken and we had serious damp problems. We have a place secure to the elements now.”

Members of the Unitarian church are in talks with Cork City Council and hope that a plan can be arrived at before Christmas. As yet, no wealthy benefactor has come forward to foot the bill; the final cost of complete restoration is likely to be seven figures. But, if nothing is done, a link back to Cork city at the start of its development is in danger of being lost.

Irish Times

NRA to unveil tunnel plan by January

THE National Roads Authority (NRA) has said it will announce its preferred option for a multi-million euro upgrade of the Jack Lynch Tunnel /Dunkettle roundabout junction by the new year or early January.

Last summer, the NRA held a public display at the Radisson Blu hotel in Little Island at which its engineers exhibited five options to upgrade what is the busiest road junction outside Dublin.

The main Dublin-Cork N8, the N25 to Wexford and the N28 to Ringaskiddy port all converge on the junction.

The NRA has repeatedly stated the junction is at capacity and needs to be upgraded urgently.

The authority has previously objected to a number of projects in the area, including O’Flynn Construction’s 1,000-plus house plan for Dunkettle — on the grounds the extra traffic it would generate would put too much pressure on the junction.

NRA spokesman Sean O’Neill said the authority was continuing to have discussions about the upgrade with Cork City Council and Cork County Council.

"We expect to make public our preferred design in December of January," Mr O’Neill said.

One of the five upgrade options could cost €100 million.

Meanwhile, a developer who wants to build a park-and-ride facility a few hundred metres from the tunnel may face an uphill battle to get planning permission for the facility as a result of the junction reconfiguration

The developer has applied to Cork County Council for outline permission for the facility on land he owns near the former Ibis Hotel, which is now a gaelscoil,

However, it is possible that his land might be subsumed under compulsory purchase orders for a series of new slip roads which may be created in the area as part of the junction upgrade.

A couple of years ago the NRA successfully objected to plans by Iarnród Éireann to build a park and ride at Dunkettle on the grounds that it might need the earmarked land to upgrade the junction.

Mr O’Neill said as far as the NRA was concerned until the preferred option was chosen "it was paramount to protect the functionality of the interchange".

Irish Examiner

Dublin suburb sites for sale at reduced prices

Two top-class redevelopment sites in the north and south Dublin suburbs are to be offered for sale at a fraction of their original valuations, writes JACK FAGAN

Wesley Rothwell, of CB Richard Ellis, is quoting a guide price of €1.5 million for the former Shandon Bakery Mill at Phibsborough in Dublin 7, and €795,000 for the site of the former Classic Cinema at Harold’s Cross Road in Dublin 6W.

The Harold’s Cross plot of 0.12 of a hectare (0.3 of an acre) should be first to sell because of its pivotal location in a densely populated area. The cinema has already been demolished and the odds are that the site will be used for a mixed development to include a retail element as well as either offices or apartments.

It would obviously appeal to either Aldi or Lidl if it had more on-site car parking space (the two German discounters seldom settle for a site of less than an acre).

However, it may well appeal to Tesco Express or Marks Spencer, given its location in an affluent area. The vendors are Capel Developments, who are also selling the former Sunday World site in the centre of Terenure village. It bought the 0.46 of a hectare site at the height of the property market for €18.3 million. The valuation has since slipped to €5 million.

The Phibsborough site, which extends to 0.65 of a hectare (1.6 acres), is also located immediately beside a busy junction, Cross Guns Bridge. It has 150 metres of frontage onto the Royal Canal. The property includes a number of derelict inter-connecting buildings, the largest a cut-stone former mill, as well as a tower building.

The sale has been called by Kavanagh Fennell, receivers to Stateford, who were refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanála for a high-rise mixed development varying from 2 to 13 storeys and comprising mainly residential units.

Rothwell said a series of feasibility studies have shown that there was potential to develop a medium-density residential scheme with a capacity of 33 to 45 homes and including a mixture of houses and duplex units.

Irish Times

Warning of delay in flood defences

CONSTRUCTION OF vital flood defences to protect Clontarf from the sea could be delayed by up to eight years, Dublin City Council has warned.

The council has had planning permission from An Bord Pleanála to build flood defences up to 2.75m high since 2008.

It has now agreed to reduce the height of the protective embankment to a maximum of 2.17m.

The cost of the project, including the construction of a new watermain is estimated at €9.8 million, which would be jointly funded by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Department of Environment. A contractor has been appointed and is ready to start work.

The council said it has been warned by the OPW that funding may be withdrawn if the project is not confirmed by the end of this year.

The reduction in height followed objections from residents and business people in Clontarf who said the defences, which would run along a 3km stretch of the promenade, would ruin the local amenity and the views of Dublin Bay.

The combined residents and business associations were last Friday presented with the proposals for the reductions in height which would see the grass covered mound vary in height from a minimum of .45m to 2.17m along the bay. In the previously approved scheme the minimum height was .85m while the maximum was 2.75m.

Residents and businesses said the reductions were inadequate and that they would continue to fight against the project.

The embankment would create a “muggers and rapist’s paradise” and would be an act of “national sabotage” local independent councillor Niall Ring told a city council meeting last night.

Executive manager with the council Tom Leahy said it was not possible to make the defences any lower and still provide protection to properties in Clontarf. “There is no point in investing in defences which do not protect people.” If they council did go ahead with the revised scheme now and had to restart the design and planning process, flood defences for Clontarf which was at “daily risk of flooding” could be delayed for up to eight years Mr Leahy said.

“It could require six to eight years to get back to where we are now, even if there is a willingness on the part of the two funding agencies to fund a complete abandonment of the current project and a total redesign.” Construction of the defences, which would take two years is due to start in the new year. If it did not progress at this stage Mr Leahy said, the OPW had indicated that funding was likely to be withdrawn.

“Dublin City Council has been informed that funding is available in 2011 from OPW and that this funding may not be available subsequently due to review of all Government Capital funding.” Councillors last night agreed to reconsider the issue next month following public consultation on the new heights.

Separately Mr Leahy last night told councillors that the rainfall which resulted in extreme flooding in Dublin two weeks ago “considerably exceeded” Met Éireann forecasts.

Some 95mm of rain fell over a 24 hour period on October 24th. Met Éireann had issued severe weather alerts, updated during the day, which predicted rainfall of 40mm to 70mm over two days, he said.

Referring to reports that the fire brigade had to be called to operate a flood gate on the river Dodder near Lansdowne Road because the key could not be found to open it Mr Leahy said the lock had malfunctioned but that it was a tidal gate which operates automatically if there is tidal, rather than rain, flooding.

Irish Times

Monday, 7 November 2011


A new book has been published which is of value to anyone with an interest in Dublin's planning.

Dublin’s Future: New Visions for Ireland’s Capital City is the first book to look at the future of Ireland’s most important city from a variety of perspectives. It recognises that the future of Ireland’s economic engine is about much more than the provision of infrastructure and colours on a development plan, but that a huge range of interests and activities have a role to play in making Dublin not only the best city in Ireland, but also the best city for Ireland.

The book identifies different ‘Dublins’, some concerned with economic success, some concerned with quality of life, all interlinked and interwoven in the complex fabric of a modern city.

Dublin’s Future suggests that the city now needs managers from diverse backgrounds, not necessarily commerce or engineering; that Dublin’s managers should have a proven urban ethos; and that we should even consider hiring a manager, not from the internal ranks of local authorities, but perhaps even from another country.

Contributors to Dublin’s Future are recognised authorities in their fields. They cross sectors of age, sectors of private and public, profit and non-profit, and each and every one has something interesting to say about the future of Dublin.

The book is published by The Liffey Press and costs €19.95.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Clontarf locals reject flood proposals

DUBLIN CITY Council’s proposals to reduce the height of the planned Clontarf flood defences are inadequate and unacceptable, local residents and business people have said.

The council two weeks ago undertook to examine the possibility of lowering proposed flood defences by half a metre, following opposition to its plans to construct an embankment of up to 2.75 metres tall over a 3km stretch of the Dublin Bay promenade.

Council officials had told residents at a meeting on October 21st that it did not know whether it would be possible to reduce the height of the An Bord Pleanála-approved flood defences and still provide protection to Clontarf from flooding.

The council yesterday returned with proposals which residents said would result in reductions of an average of one foot over the length of the scheme and no reductions at key locations such as the Clontarf baths.

“Their suggested amendments to the project in no way go far enough for us to accept it,” Deirdre Tobin, chairwoman of the residents’ association said. “We have been mandated by the people to fight this project in its current format and we will continue to do so.”

Chairman of the Clontarf Business Association Gus O’Hara said the council had ignored the will of the people “and in doing so displayed a lack of sensitivity to the area, the people and the local economy there”.

The council has had permission to build flood defences up to 2.75 metres high since 2008, but is only now seeking to construct the scheme, expected to cost €9.7 million. Work had been due to begin next year.

The scheme was designed to prevent further flood damage along the seafront and to carry a new arterial water main. The area was hit by an “extreme tidal event” in February 2002 and a less severe one in October 2004.

The council yesterday said it would not comment on the new proposals ahead of their presentation to councillors on Monday night.

Irish Times

'Fatal legal flaw' possible in children's hospital plan

THE DEPARTMENT of Health failed to comply with an EU requirement for a strategic environmental assessment of the proposed national children’s hospital in Dublin, An Bord Pleanála has been told.

In a submission to the board’s oral hearing on the hospital, the Heritage Council said the department’s failure to carry out the assessment could be a “fatal legal flaw” in the planning process.

The council, a statutory body, said much of the conflict over the hospital’s proposed height and bulk resulted from this failure by the department to assess the environmental implications before deciding in May 2006 to go ahead with the €650 million project.

An Bord Pleanála is holding oral hearings into the plan to build the 16-storey hospital on a two-hectare site on the grounds of the Mater hospital. It is due to be completed in 2016.

The National Children’s Hospital Development Board says an environmental report on Dublin City Council’s 2008 Mountjoy/ Phibsboro local area plan, which covered the Mater site, was adequate to fulfil an EU directive’s requirement for a strategic environmental assessment.

However Colm Murray, the Heritage Council’s architecture officer, said the directive, which was transposed into Irish law in 2004, related to “all decisions in respect of plans and programmes that may have an environmental effect”, such as the proposed hospital.

It also required an examination of alternatives. “Without real alternatives, there is no scope for choice or judgment and the environmental impact process is pointless and flawed”, he said in a submission to the oral hearing. This could be “a fatal legal flaw in the decision-making process”.

The fact that an environmental report was done on the Mountjoy/ Phibsboro local area plan, published in March 2008, was insufficient, as “the prior decision of government [to locate the hospital on the Mater site] prevented the generation of alternatives”.

An Bord Pleanála’s minutes of pre-planning consultations with the applicants record them as saying the decision to locate the hospital on the Mater site “was based on medical policy more so than planning policy and [they] acknowledged that it could be a contentious matter”.

Mr Murray said the Heritage Council “is of the view that the integrity and authenticity of Dublin as a candidate [Unesco] World Heritage Site ought to be a major material consideration in this planning decision”, because the 16-storey hospital would have negative impacts.

He noted that conservation architect Paul Arnold had conceded that “the adverse impact on St George’s Church [in nearby Hardwicke Place] will be high” and there would also be “identifiable adverse impacts” on North Great George’s Street and O’Connell Street.

An Taisce, in its submission to An Bord Pleanála’s oral hearing, drew attention to two alternatives that were not considered – a €102 million expansion plan for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin and a publicly owned site between St James’s Hospital and Heuston Station. The latter site, it said, “offers more than double the footprint compared to the existing proposal” and was also “substantially co-located with a major adult teaching hospital, requiring only a 90m link to St James’s” as well as adequate space for expansion.

Lawyer James Nix, who appeared for An Taisce, also argued there was a failure to observe the EU’s strategic environmental assessment directive (SEA) and this “continues to the present day”, with the decision to opt for the Mater site “taken as a fait accompli” in the Mountjoy/Phibsboro local area plan.

“In effect, the failure to meet the SEA begins in 2006 and persists into the arms of An Bord Pleanála,” Mr Nix said. “Indeed, looking at what took place over these five years, the decision-making process is compromised by the very mischief that the SEA directive seeks to avoid.

“By failing to ascertain and study alternatives, we witness an unshakeable faith that the decision must be right in the first place. This cannot be the process, and is indeed the last thing the framers and those adopting the [SEA] directive . . . intended.”

Irish Times

Friday, 4 November 2011

Lines and the law

Agricultural consultant and valuer Richard Collins says landowners with genuine cases for compensation for powerlines on their property should turn to arbitration. In response, Eirgrid emphasises the benefits of electrical infrastructure, and says independent arbitration is available for any dispute.

THE ESB/Eirgrid proposal to construct a large high-voltage electric powerline between Dunmanway and Clashavoon in Co Cork (about 50 km) is causing much concern to the landowners whose land will be traversed. There can be little doubt that the erection of such powerlines and pylons will reduce the value of farms along its route.

Pressure from landowners over many years about damage done by road schemes and gas pipelines eventually resulted in reasonably satisfactory levels of compensation for farm devaluation. Not so, however, in the case of powerlines and pylons.

The Entitlement to Compensation: The Electricity (Supply) Act of 1927 gave considerable powers to the ESB, but did not provide for proper compensation payments to landowners for powerlines and pylons on their land. This was legally challenged by Gormley in a landmark court case (ESB v Gormley, 1985). In the Supreme Court judgement, the judge described the right to acquire a wayleave or easement over land to facilitate the construction of powerlines, pylons and masts, as a "burdensome right over land". This opened the door, and resulted in a provision in the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1985 for full compensation to landowners for damage done by electric powerlines, poles and pylons. There is now an undisputed entitlement to full compensation for damage to property as a result of these structures.

However, poorly focused efforts by landowners mean that the ESB still steadfastly hold that no such devaluation exists, and landowners remain unpaid for property devaluation.

Why is there a resistance to powerlines? Powerlines and pylons are a visual eyesore and, like any eyesore, cause a devaluation of the property on which they are erected. More importantly, however, there is now a very strong perception that they are a health risk, and this adds further to the property devaluation. Wayleaves and easements taken by the ESB/Eirgrid for the erection of powerlines are registered on the landowner’s property deeds. What most landowners do not realise is that the power given to the ESB/Eirgrid by the various ESB Acts also entitles them to enter any part of a landowner’s property to erect the powerline and afterwards carry out inspections and maintenance, and in emergencies, prior notice does not have to be given. This can have serious animal disturbance and disease implications. Helicopter flights over the powerlines for inspections are a regular occurrence, and can seriously disturb animals, particularly horses.

The combination of the eyesore, the perceived health risk, the burden on title and the access rights, constitutes a significant devaluation of property and appropriate compensation should be paid to landowners for this devaluation.

What are landowners paid? ESB/Eirgrid generally limit compensation payments to crop loss resulting from the construction works. In recent times, there may also be a so-called "facility payment" for co-operation with the pylon construction. However, there is an absolute and total resistance to an acceptance that these structures and rights devalue property, and accordingly, landowners are not paid compensation for same. By nature, landowners are generally co-operative, and will accept crop loss compensation and allow the works continue. It is only when a landowner may wish to sell his farm or erect a dwelling house or farm building that he realises his or her mistake.

The extent of devaluation: No two situations are the same. Clearly, the erection of a low voltage powerline across one corner of a very large holding, several hundred metres from the dwelling house and farm buildings, will not cause the same level of devaluation as a high voltage powerline with a number of pylons in close proximity to the dwelling house, through the centre of a small or medium-sized holding. This latter situation could be so serious as to ruin a potential farm sale, because intensive farmers and bloodstock owners would have no interest in acquiring such land, with the problems referred to above. In the former situation, the level of devaluation is likely to be insignificant, and generally would not justify a reference to arbitration for compensation.

What can landowners do? To disrupt or prevent the erection of powerlines is illegal. ESB/Eirgrid will absolutely refuse, except in extremely exceptional circumstances, to put powerlines underground — and there is no law to compel them to do so. Major protests aimed at having powerlines put underground have seldom been successful, and have generally been a wasted effort. The only realistic route for landowners is to pursue the matter by demanding appropriate compensation.

There is provision in the legislation for compensation for property devaluation, and if ESB/Eirgrid refuse to acknowledge genuine devaluation (as they invariably will), the landowner can have the matter determined by an independent property arbitrator whose decision is binding on both parties.

Landowners with genuine cases should not be afraid of the arbitration process. However, the case must be realistic, worthwhile, and must be properly prepared.

There is little point going before a property arbitrator without evidence and professional expertise to support the case. There is now real evidence that land with large powerlines has been selling at much lower prices than similar land without such structures.

It is not advisable to break the law, while there is a mechanism to get fair play within the law. The threat of having to pay legal costs should not deter landowners, because it is slight, in the right circumstances. As in all such matters, good and reliable legal and valuation advice should be sought at the outset.

Farmer discussion groups are now emerging as a useful forum for having the pros and cons of major issues debated. Large scale protests have been tried throughout the country, but do not appear to have achieved any worthwhile success, mainly because they have been aimed in either illegal or unachievable directions. In the final analysis, such actions are only a distraction from the really worthwhile opportunities that exist for getting fair compensation for property devaluation.

Experience: Having been involved in trying to get compensation for landowners for the past several years, my experience informs me that satisfactory results can be achieved if the approach is correct. The official ESB/Eirgrid position is that they will comply with the entitlement, as covered by the Gormley Supreme Court judgement, but as powerlines do not devalue a property, the compensation for same will always be zero, and if landowners think otherwise, they should go to arbitration. Unfortunately, this then frightens landowners, and the relevant compensation is foregone.

Despite the Gormley success in the Supreme Court, ESB/Eirgrid have succeeded in getting powerlines erected throughout the country, without having to concede that there is devaluation of property.

This has been achieved by powerful and professional management and PR work. Farmers should try the same approach.

Richard Collins is an agricultural consultant and valuer and can be contacted at FBA House, Fermoy, Co Cork

Irish Examiner

Councillors to consider 50% cut to levies

CORK’S city councillors are to consider proposals to slash development levies by 50% in an effort to stimulate construction.

They have asked for a full report from the city manager on the implications of the move ahead of a special meeting of the council’s planning committee within the next two weeks.

The issue was discussed at a recent city council meeting during a debate on two motions — one signed by all Fine Gael councillors and the other signed by Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary — which had exactly the same wording.

At the height of the Celtic Tiger’s construction boom, the council raked in millions of euro in development charges — the money paid by developers upon the granting of planning permission for specific projects.

In 2007, it took in €21 million in development charges.

But as the construction industry collapsed, the level of development charges received plummeted, decreasing to €13m in 2008, and to €3.5m in 2009.

City manager Tim Lucey said the council raised just €2m in development charges last year.

"Cork is craneless," Cllr Joe O’Callaghan (FG) said.

"We have thousands of construction workers signing on every week. We must do something to stimulate development."

He suggested cutting the development charges by 50%, or abolishing them completely for a three-year period.

However, Cllr Michael Aherne (Lab) said slashing the charges would hit the council’s already under-pressure income streams.

He said a 50% cut on last year’s total income from development charges would cost the city €1m.

Some councillors said if the reduction was agreed, the council would have to make cuts elsewhere to make up the shortfall.

Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry pointed out the wording of the motions signed by Fine Gael and Sinn Féin councillors was exactly the same, and had come before council following intense lobbying by a developer.

Cllr Denis O’Flynn (Lab) said he was incensed by the motion. "It was developers who brought the country to its knees and these motions are now supporting them."

However, Cllr John Buttimer (FG) said similar motions had been proposed by councillors in other local authorities, and he made no apologies for signing the motion.

City manager Tim Lucey defended the city’s current rate of development charges which at €80 per square metre, compares very favourably with the rates charged by other local authorities.

He is now preparing a report for the planning committee on the implications of a cut in rates.

Irish Examiner

Expanding while trying to please the neighbours

DUBLIN Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly is the first to admit that you can't please everyone. As an ambitious €500m draft masterplan for Dublin Port is formally unveiled today, residents living in nearby areas -- such as well-to-do Clontarf -- have already voiced their concerns. They have issues surrounding the potential visual and environmental impact of plans to nearly double the port's handling capacity over the next three decades.

But notwithstanding the arguments from both sides about why expansion and land reclamation at Dublin Port may or may not be necessary to fulfil future requirements, there is no escaping the fact that if the facility is to continue being the primary point of entry and exit for goods into the country, then it needs continued investment.

"Of course, we would have liked a higher level of engagement," says O'Reilly, partic- ularly in relation to the Clontarf residents.

"At the end of the day, we're all citizens, but you're not going to get perfect consensus. However, I think what people will see with the draft masterplan is that there have been some very significant changes -- or maybe a more explicit enunciation -- of policy by the board."

That more "explicit enunciation" includes an undertaking that intended land reclamation "could and should" mark the final incursion of the port into the bay area. Any need for additional capacity would, he says, require investment in alternative ports on the east coast.

It's probably safe to say that the most contentious issue will be plans to reclaim up to 40 hectares of land at the port.

A previous planning application to reclaim 21 hectares was ultimately rejected by An Bord Pleanala earlier this year, but for environmental reasons to do with the potential impact on wetland habitats for birds, rather than any objection to expansion of the port per se. That has left the door open for Dublin Port to lob in a further application -- something that O'Reilly says it will do in time.

"We didn't adequately set out the impact it would have on the environment. That's something that's addressable."

Despite the economic environment here, which has seen the level of imports shrink significantly, a slide in Dublin Port's throughput has reversed as exports rallied. Last year, nearly 29 million tonnes of goods were shipped through the port -- nearly as much as in 2008. It handles slightly over 46pc of all the country's exports.

O'Reilly and his team have based their masterplan on the assumption that the port's volumes will grow by about 2.5pc per year over the next 30 years, but accept that this could happen as soon as 15-20 years.

He also maintains that the masterplan is just that -- a plan -- and not all the elements of it might necessarily proceed over the course of its projected timeline. From a financial point of view, he says it can be done in "bite-size chunks", enabling it to be easily funded, without having to expose the company to high levels of debt.

"We've got a perverse benefit from the economic downturn," he says, explaining that when the recently rejected reclamation plan was initially put before An Bord Pleanala, it appeared likely that the extra capacity it would bring would be required by the port within five to 10 years.

That time horizon was extended as the country descended into recession. New berths built on reclaimed land would enable the port to handle a new breed of superferries that are as long as 250 metres and can carry 300 freight vehicles and 230 cars. O'Reilly says the port is conscious of optimally using its existing footprint.

"We have 260 hectares here and some of those lands are not directly under our control because they're subject to long-term leases with clients and 30 acres have oil tanks sitting on them (they won't be moved). The focus is really on using the lands that we have."

Examples of how the port intends to do this include shifting an open storage area for imported vehicles that is beside the port's head office to a 4.3-hectare site across the road, which is currently disconnected from the main port area as a result of the construction of the port tunnel. A bridge will be built across that road to link the two areas and a planning application is close to being filed by Dublin Port.

It's intended that the new site will accommodate up to 2,300 cars. That will free up space beside the head office for additional roll-on roll-off capacity. A number of other areas within the existing facility can also be in-filled to provide extra operating space, while the port wants to be more "city facing", reintegrating with the capital.

It hopes to move cruise ship berths up towards the East Link and build an interpretative centre there.

O'Reilly reckons that if the total masterplan was implemented, it would cost in the region of €400m to €500m. In the past decade, about €250m has been invested in upgrading facilities. There's currently enough capacity for container traffic for the next 10 years.

As boss of a semi-state, he is subject to a €250,000 salary cap imposed by the last government and ignored most recently by the appointment of Pat Doherty as chief executive of the ESB -- he'll receive €318,000. O'Reilly, meanwhile, receives €185,000 a year -- less than his predecessor.

"I want to be paid as much as I can get," says O'Reilly. "That's not much different from how anyone thinks.

"The Government is in a very difficult position though, when there's 400,000 people unemployed. In my last job (boss of Portroe Steverdores, owned by the Cork-based Doyle Group), I took a 20pc pay cut because I had to make people redundant."

He thinks that the right people need to be employed for the right jobs and that if the salary cap has to be breached on occasion, then it should be.

"You need to have the right number of people employed with the right skills at the market price. If that involves someone being paid more than €250,000, so be it," he adds.

"We had mad excesses of earnings in banking in particular. There was colossal incompetence and people were royally rewarded for it. There's naturally a reaction to that. Everyone gets tarred with that same brush at the level of this job."

Meanwhile, O'Reilly says he has a good relationship with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who has already made it clear that any of the state-owned ports that can't pay their way won't be able to avail of any state funding to bail them out.

Most recently he placed Dundalk Port under the control of Dublin Port, which then contracted out its operation to a local crane operator. For now though, the Dublin Port masterplan is a priority for O'Reilly.

But he won't be working at Dublin Port even when many initial elements of the masterplan might be implemented. He's 52 and took up his job last year. It has a seven-year tenure and he's fairly certain he'll be moving on after it.

"I'm on the eighth gig of my career," he explains. "I'm on a contract that has a tenure of no more than seven years. I will move on. My ambition is to go out with 10 gigs under my belt."

Irish Independent

FF: €12k septic tank bills on way

RURAL houseowners may face bills of up to €12,000 according to Fianna Fáil under proposed laws to improve standards of septic tanks.

The Water Services Amendment Bill was published yesterday by Environment Minister Phil Hogan who said its purpose was to improve the quality of drinking water in rural areas.

Under the legislation, all septic tanks will be subject to an inspection and households will have to register them at a "modest fee" of €50, the minister said.

"Inspections may give rise to householders being advised to improve the maintenance of their system. Or, in more serious situations, may require the upgrading or remediation of the treatment system," he said.

Such repairs would cost up to €12,000 between planning permission, ecologist reports and construction, according to deputy leader of Fianna Fáil Eamon Ó Cuív. The Galway West TD, who previously said he would go to jail rather than pay the proposed inspection fees, said the bill confirms his worst fears about the cost to rural house owners.

The department responded he was "scare mongering" and that there was "no question of multiple inspection charges".

Irish Examiner

Galway wind farm gets green light

Planning permission has been granted for what may become the largest wind farm in the State.

An Bord Pleanála has given the go-ahead to a wind farm in Co Galway which will generate enough electricity for 68,000 houses.

Work can now begin on the 105 megawatt Cloosh Valley wind project near Oughterard, on land owned by Coillte.

The scheme will be operated by the State forestry company with Scottish and Southern Energy and the Canadian company, Finavera Wind Energy.

Irish Times

Developer makes plea for controversial €34m plan

THE promoter of contentious plans for a €34 million retail development for Ennis is making a late bid to win the hearts and minds of the public ahead of a crucial vote on the development.

Seamus Lynch said yesterday his retail plan will create 300 construction jobs and "between 180 and 200 permanent sustainable jobs at a time when unemployment is at its worst in Clare since the 1980s".

The company lodged the planning application for the retail plan in January and councillors proposed a rezoning of the site in June to allow for a district retail centre at the location.

Now, ahead of the nine-member Ennis Town Council vote on the rezoning at their Monday meeting, consultants for promoters Michael Lynch Ltd and Co were presenting their plan to the public at the Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis yesterday.

However, independent retailers’ group, RGDATA has joined with the Ennis Chamber of Commerce and other associations in opposing the plan.

Consultant for the Ennis chamber Michael Leahy said the proposed rezoning to allow a district centre at the site "could have a potentially ruinous effect on the retail balance within Ennis".

However, managing director Seamus Lynch said the proposed application was for a food store and not a shopping centre.

He said that a purpose-built community centre to house a much needed library will be handed over free of charge to Ennis Town Council.

Mr Lynch added: "The objective of our proposed development is to help stem the haemorrhage of retail expenditure to Limerick and other centres and to help sustain local jobs in Ennis."

Irish Examiner

Derelict site owners forced into action following council orders

There are up to 18 buildings in Ballinrobe town on the Derelict Sites register according to local councillor Damien Ryan.

They are in the Glebe Street, Convent Road, Cornmarket, New Street, Bridge Street and Creagh Road areas.

Two sites have been added to the register in Claremorris since the beginning of October and Mayo County Council are involved in ongoing correspondence with the owners of one major derelict building in Ballyhaunis. There are three other derelict sites on the register in Ballyhaunis a meeting of the Claremorris electoral area was told this week, as well as one in Shrule and a couple in Knock.

However, Ballyhaunis Fine Gael representative John Cribbin expressed concerns about the lack of work being carried out on the major derelict premises in Claremorris despite commitments being given to the local business community by the owner.

A representative of the council’s roads department, Imelda O’Donnell, explained that the owners have to be given time to carry out certain works. She said they were issued a section 11 in October which outlined the exact works required and clarification was sought by the owner in relation to this. She confirmed the owner was getting quotes in relation to the necessary works. She assured Cllr Cribbin that the works were being addressed but they had to follow due process.

Claremorris independent councillor Richard Finn complimented the local people who responded “so well” to council requests to update derelict buildings. He also said he was glad the council treated these people in such a “humanitarian” way.

However, Ballinrobe area councillor Michael Burke expressed concern that some property owners would not progress works on their sites in the same way others had already done. He said owners would be delighted for Mayo County Council to take the buildings off them but he pointed out the finance was not available for that to happen.

Cllr Damien Ryan said it would be his preferred option for the council to get a valuation of the derelict sites and levy the owners three per cent of the value of the property which could then be used to carry out necessary works.

The director of services for the Claremorris and Ballinrobe area Mr Seamus Granahan said the council wouldn’t be rushing in to purchase sites under the Derelict Sites Act.

Mayo Advertiser

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Judicial review last unsettled action by pipeline opponents

THE HIGH Court judicial review of State consents for the new Corrib gas pipeline route was the last outstanding legal action pursued by environmentalists and residents opposed to the project on health and safety grounds.

An Taisce has described yesterday’s settlement as a “victory”, while lead Corrib gas developer Shell EP Ireland has welcomed the clarity which this settlement . . . “provides for the project”.

However, residents of the area, such as Rossport farmers Willie and Mary Corduff, have expressed “deep disappointment” at the outcome.

“The State has admitted failures in its handling of the project, but it appears to be business as usual,” Pobal Chill Chomáin community group spokesman John Monaghan said.

“By the time promised new legislation is in place, the Corrib project will be built,” Mr Monaghan added. “It comes too late for us.”

The legal challenges taken by An Taisce and residents Monica Muller and Peter Sweetman related to the last section of the project, which is estimated to have run to €2.5 billion to date in tax-allowable costs.

In April 2003, An Bord Pleanála inspector Kevin Moore said that Ballinaboy was “the wrong location” for a project of this magnitude in a rural area.

However, that terminal has been built after protracted delays, and the offshore pipeline linking the wellhead 83km west of the Mayo coast has been laid into a landfall at Glengad.

The new pipeline route is the third such option – the first, through Rossport, having been withdrawn after the jailing of the Rossport Five and continued protests, and the second having been redrawn by the developers to avoid Rossport village.

Up to half of this second route was found to be unsafe due to proximity to housing by the planning board in 2009. It directed that the developers examine the third route up Sruwaddacon estuary, approved by it last January after another in a series of oral hearings.

There was never an overall review of the project in its entirety by State authorities, despite pleas by residents. However, former minister for energy Eamon Ryan transferred responsibility for the pipeline’s safety when built from his department to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

An Taisce’s main concern about this latest route was related to the fact that Sruwaddacon estuary is a protected habitat. However, local residents not party to the action still believe the new pipeline route is unsafe. Although it is further from some housing, they point out that it is within 700 metres of a national school at Pollathomas and close to dwellings at Glengad.

Central to the settlement is a pledge by the State to transpose European environmental law into national legislation. The State maintains its consents for the pipeline were valid.

“The critical objective for An Taisce is to ensure what happened in the Corrib project can never happen again,” An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith has said.

Shell said that the Corrib gas partners – Shell, Statoil and Vermilion – were strongly committed to completing this strategically important project which “has the potential to supply up to 60 per cent of Ireland’s natural gas needs”. The supply will be at full market price.

Irish Times

GPs get retention order for surgeries in Killarney

A GROUP of GPs, in conjunction with a developer in Killarney, have been granted retention permission for surgeries in a commercial/ office development into which they have moved.

Strict conditions have, however, been laid down which stipulate the permission relates to a medical centre for a specified number of GP practices at the Gateway building at the northern entrance to Killarney and not to a primary care centre. This may have implications for the development of a primary care-type centre in the tower blocks with satellite services from visiting consultants.

The doctors were forced to seek retention permission for change of use of blocks one and two after pharmacists in Killarney asked An Bord Pleanála to rule on the matter. There has been division in the town between the doctors and the pharmacists over the move by the GPs from other locations.

The pharmacists, who object to the concentration of GPs in one centre, had asked An Bord Pleanála whether the town council’s decision to allow a major medical centre and a pharmacy into the building, originally planned for offices and commerce, needed permission.

The board ruled it did. The pharmacists were also concerned that the centre held two pharmacies and about the threat to their businesses in the town. The 105,000sq ft Reeks Gateway was built by Sundays Well Properties Ltd at the height of the boom. The tower blocks were never fully occupied.

Irish Times

An Taisce and landowners withdraw Corrib gas action

LEGAL actions brought by An Taisce and others over the manner in which consents were granted for the Corrib gas project have been settled and withdrawn at the High Court.
The settlement includes an agreement by the state to properly transpose aspects of the European environmental impact assessment directive by the end of this year.

Afterwards, An Taisce said the manner in which the project was consented to was "a travesty" of European environmental law and its legal case was about "breaking bad precedents".

Chairman Charles Stanley Smith said the terms of settlement represented "a victory for the environment".

In a statement to the court, the state defendants acknowledged An Taisce’s case was properly brought and said in view of the concerns raised, the state would establish an environmental law implementation group to formally engage with An Taisce.

While acknowledging the failures of transposition, the state said it was maintaining its claims the consents challenged in the legal actions, including a foreshore licence, were valid and were granted "only after all necessary environmental assessment under Irish and EU law".

Mr Justice Peter Charelton was told by Anthony Collins SC that the actions by An Taisce, and a separate action by local residents Peter Sweetman and Monica Muller, were being withdrawn.

The cases, brought against various state parties with Shell EP Ireland and Mayo County Council as notice parties, had been at hearing before the judge for 11 days.

All parties welcomed the settlement.

Mr Sweetman and Ms Muller, of Rossport South, Ballina, Co Mayo, own land 500m south of the proposed pipeline and, with An Taisce, challenged An Bord Pleanála’s decision last January granting permission to Shell & Ireland for its third proposed route for the pipeline.

Irish Examiner

Can we fix it? PPPs can . . .

THEY WERE ONCE hailed as the pioneering way to plug the infrastructure deficit; a means of getting roads, schools, prisons and hospitals built without burning a hole in the State’s bank account. But with the advent of the banking and fiscal crisis, public-private partnerships have become unviable, with flagship projects postponed and other contracts stalled. So are PPPs off the table for good, or could this funding model eventually serve as an economic stimulus that helps Ireland play catch up once again?

No major public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure project has secured funding since the advent of the financial crisis three years ago, the Department of Transport recently said, while a database used by the last government to monitor PPP projects,, has not been updated since March 2010.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar identified the problem when he postponed the PPP for the Metro West line between Ballymun and Tallaght earlier this year: PPPs in Ireland have been undermined by a double funding bind. The reluctance of the international debt funding market to stump up the cash to finance projects in Ireland has come at a time when the exchequer is unable or unwilling to make a contribution of its own.

It has been “extremely quiet”, confirms Michael Flynn, a partner at Deloitte who specialises in PPPs. The banks are focused on deleveraging rather than lending and the 20-year-plus time horizon on a typical PPP project just isn’t in their interest when sovereign risks are high.

But though the scarcity of capital is putting the kibosh on large-scale transport projects, Flynn believes that smaller PPP bundles for projects such as schools, in the order of €50-€60 million, are “certainly bankable, with one or two banks” – they just require the go-ahead from Government. This echoes the view of the National Development Finance Agency – the agency charged with an advisory role on all PPPs. It believes that projects with relatively low funding requirements retain an interest for the debt and equity funding markets.

There is, according to Flynn, “a level of interest” overseas in Irish PPP projects – despite “the odd hiccup”, there have been many successful roads schemes that have served as a good precedent. However, from the contractor’s point of view, any deals done in the current environment would need to have simpler structures than some of the PPP business models favoured in the past, he says.

Even “bite-sized deals” are easier said than done, however, at a time when Ireland’s capital spending budget is seen as a more suitable target for cuts than current spending (though there are plenty of people, from business groups to fans of using capital programmes for economic stimulus, who will be attempting to persuade the Government otherwise).

A document prepared for Varadkar’s department starkly blamed the failure of the National Roads Authority to finalise negotiations in the Gort to Tuam motorway bypass on “concern in the capital markets regarding Ireland’s overall financial situation”. But Ireland’s current failure to meet the minimum sovereign credit rating requirements of international banks is by no means a permanent problem, says Shane Lyons, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ corporate finance division.

“The capital markets see the Irish credit risk declining – bond yields and CDS spreads are coming down. The capital markets are really saying that Ireland is getting on the right track, and if this is sustained, eventually the ratings agencies are likely to follow,” says Lyons. “But the Government still needs to have an actual spending programme.”

Are PPPs in the best interest of taxpayers? At the end of 2010, the State had an outstanding commitment of almost €4.3 billion to some 37 projects already in place, covering roads, schools and medical projects. Some €1.9 billion has already been spent. However, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General published in September noted that estimates were unavailable for future PPP commitments where contracts had not been signed because of the complexities involved, including the cost of borrowing. It also noted that just three PPPs reached contract stage last year.

Some old-style road schemes were badly affected by timing issues. The National Roads Authority estimates that it will be obliged to compensate the operators of the M3 motorway in Co Meath and the N18 Limerick tunnel next year because traffic volumes have failed to meet “traffic-related guarantees” included in the original agreements. The private sector companies involved are also bearing losses as a result of these over-optimistic projections.

This form of contract is now gone, says Mary Dunne, a partner and legal expert in PPPs at Byrne Wallace. It has been replaced with a more standard contract whereby the private bidder pays for the design and construction of the project and the State pays a monthly payment, “almost like a mortgage”. There are penalties for the contractor if they fail to maintain the roads, but traffic forecasts have been taken out of the equation, and it’s the financiers that have called a halt.

“Eight years ago, the banks were willing to take that kind of risk on population projections, but now they won’t,” says Dunne. The risk the banks are now mulling is whether or not the Irish Government will make its repayments. At the moment, they’re shying away.

“It’s a confidence issue. There’s a lack of confidence,” she says. One London-based syndicate on the verge of financing a “cookie-cutter” Irish roads PPP walked away earlier this year “just for absolute confidence reasons”, she says. “If solid London banks that have funded loads of these projects are getting cold feet, then it’s a real line in the sand.”

Like Flynn and Lyons, Dunne sees the financiers returning once this confidence issue in Irish sovereign debt is resolved. For global private equity funds, a deal with a central government department in Ireland should still be worth a look. “A lot of the guys I’m dealing with are sniffing around Poland and Croatia at the moment,” says Dunne. “The companies are in a frenzy to see what comes out of Croatia, and Croatia is much less solid than we are, and it hasn’t got the experience.”

PPPs can be treated as off-balance sheet expenditure by the Government, which during belt-tightening times makes them an easier commitment than an upfront outlay. But the accounting treatment may artificially heighten the benefits of some projects – a recent report by the UK’s Treasury Select Committee argued that stricter criteria were needed to govern its private finance initiative programme. “PFI means getting something now and paying later. Any Whitehall department could be excused for becoming addicted to that,” said the committee’s chairman Andrew Tyrie MP. In other words, the ability of governments to use the model to keep projects off-balance sheet skews the incentive away from traditional procurement methods, which might be more efficient.

But many of the original attractions of PPPs for the construction of public infrastructure still remain, in theory. They were attractive because they allowed the costs of an investment to be spread over the lifetime of assets such as roads, rail-tracks or ports, thereby allowing large-scale projects of economic value to be brought forward.

Lamenting that “too many separate departments” are responsible for PPPs, a report produced by business group Ibec and accountants KPMG in March called for the establishment of a specific National Infrastructure Authority to identify projects and take responsibility for funding strategies. This, it said, would prevent delays in planning and at the pre-procurement stage. The report also complained of a lack of clear visibility on pipeline projects, which it said was needed “in order to attract and maintain interest from international banks and investors in Irish PPP projects”.

Supporters of the funding model have also pointed out that experience and skills gained by Irish construction contractors during the good times have allowed them to become profitable exporters, as they win bids for partnerships in markets such as the UK and Poland. Construction group Sisk is the leading light in this category. Almost half of its turnover now comes from Britain as a result of its involvement in the London 2012 Olympic athletes’ village and a section of the UK capital’s crossrail tunnel.

They have been helped by standardised models of PPP contracts across the world, says Dunne, and she should know – she drafted the template PPP for Ireland. Based “95 per cent” on the UK’s PFI model, similar contracts are now used in other markets. “Irish contractors are completely familiar with them. There’s nothing to stop an Irish contractor bidding for a PPP in Canada or Australia or anywhere,” says Dunne.

Lyons describes PPPs as “one form of procurement”; part of the Government’s toolkit. “I wouldn’t espouse PPPs in every circumstance, but it has successfully delivered a big proportion of our national motorway network and is also making a significant contribution in the education sector.”

Despite the current squeeze on both public and private participation in PPPs, it seems clear that major projects such as Metro North and the Dart Underground won’t happen in the future unless the model becomes workable again. Or as Varadkar put it bluntly in May: “If PPPs are not a runner, then loads of these big projects are gone.”

The fate of the not-so-big projects is even less clear.

Irish Times

Green light for medical centre

A MEDICAL centre in Killarney has secured planning retention but strict conditions have been imposed by An Bord Pleanála.

A group of GPs are already operating out of a commercial /office block in the town.

Along with developers of the Reeks Gateway project, the doctors were forced to seek retention permission for change of use of blocks one and two after pharmacists in Killarney raised the issue with the planning appeals’ board.

Conditions laid down stipulate that permission relates to a medical centre for a specified number of GP practices — and not to a primary care centre.

Pharmacists had objected to the concentration of GPs in one centre and challenged a decision by the town council to allow a major medical centre and a pharmacy into a new multi-storey building originally planned for office and commercial use.

The pharmacists were also concerned that the centre holds two pharmacies and was a likely threat to long established businesses.

The 105,000sq-ft Reeks Gateway, comprising of multi-storey blocks, retail units and a petrol station at the northern entrance to Killarney, was built at the height of the boom by Sundays Well Properties Ltd.

The tower blocks were never fully occupied.

Killarney Town Council granted permission to the doctors — in conjunction with Sundays Well Properties Ltd for the change of use of the property.

The grant of permission allows use of the ground floor retail unit for a pharmacy and café.

Pharmacists, who had lodged objections to the application for retention, can still lodge an appeal.

Irish Examiner

City buildings to be knocked down in revamp

BUILDINGS opposite the Spire are to be knocked down as part of the rejuvenation of a key part of the city centre.

Permission has been granted for the demolition of numbers 32 and 33 Henry Street despite opposition from a heritage body.

Percy Nominees Ltd applied for approval to knock down the structures and partially demolish and alter the interior of 68 and 69 O'Connell Street Upper.

While supporting the regeneration of the site, An Taisce strongly objected to elements of the plan.

"While the refurbishment and conservation element of this proposal is welcome, An Taisce cannot support demolition of historic streetscape buildings," the national trust stated.

It does not consider the "good quality" structures in this location "expendable".

"While we welcome the repair and conservation of the Georgian building on the corner of O'Connell Street and Henry Street, which appears to be original to the mid-18th century Gardiner's Mall development, we consider that the demolition and replacement of Nos 32 and 33 is unacceptable," An Taisce said.

The refurbished and rebuilt buildings will be developed as a single shop at the prime city centre location, facing the Spire and the GPO.

It will be accessed from O'Connell Street Upper, Henry Street and Henry Place.

Another objection came in from street traders in the Henry Place area who said the development may "eradicate" their business, leaving them with no income. One seller told Dublin City Council: "I believe this development would create an inordinate amount of noise and dust pollution for the duration of the build. This would make it virtually impossible to carry on my business."

Nevertheless, the local authority deemed the designs suitable to the location and granted permission.

However, it said Percy Nominees should agree proposals with the council to provide for the "continuing operation" of licensed street traders whose trading pitch would be directly affected by construction work.

Included in the other conditions is a requirement that historic features of the buildings be "reused where possible" to ensure all works are carried out "in accordance with best conservation practice".

The council granted permission for the project late last month but it is likely an appeal will be lodged with An Bord Pleanala.

Evening Herald

Unique character and qualities but large areas of space under-utilised

BALBRIGGAN is already a place of 'unique character and qualities' but it has large areas of 'underutilised' space that should be put to use for its people. That is the view expressed in Balbriggan's Public Realm Plan which states: 'Balbriggan town centre is a place of unique character and qualities, held together by a strong, diverse and coherent community.'

It's historical development is unique and this is evident in its rich natural, built and cultural heritage. 'However, there are large areas of under-utilised space, including Mill Park, the harbour, the beach, and the Martello Tower area and viaduct car park which are poorly connected to the town or to each other, yet which have considerable potential to be improved for the benefit of the town as a whole.' Loci, the consultants who put the plan together, said that community consultation was crucial in the development of the project.

Through that consultation a number of themes emerged which are all addressed in the plan. The consultants came to the conclusion that the town's strengths which needed to be built upon were its heritage and landmark buildings along with the great resources of a harbour and seafront. But the consultants said: 'Surprisingly, many of these are, as yet, untapped or not fully exploited.' More than anything, the Public Realm Plan means to put that right.

Fingal Independent