Sunday, 29 November 2009

DDDA took pro-developer stance in projects

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) adopted ‘‘pro-developer’’ planning practices in the past, partly due to the influence of senior figures from Anglo Irish Bank who were on its board, according to the current DDDA chairman.

Professor Niamh Brennan said that two independent reports showed significant shortcomings in the previous operations of the authority, but a range of procedures were being implemented to address those issues.

The DDDA last week reported an operating deficit of €27 million for 2008 and a write-down of €186 million on its investments, mainly relating to its stake in the former Irish Glass Bottle site. A severe cost-cutting programme will reduce the operating deficit to single figure millions this year, but the agency will require government assistance to survive. Sources believe that financial support is likely to be forthcoming, as the government would be responsible for the liabilities of the state-owned organisation even if it were to close.

Brennan said that the two reports - which were ordered by environment minister John Gormley and compiled by independent financial and planning consultants - identified significant shortcomings in the authority’s past procedures, particularly in relation to planning.

‘‘The planning function of the authority was used to facilitate development and may not have been operated as independently of development as it should have been," Brennan told The Sunday Business Post. ‘‘Planning standards, as a result, were compromised." The reports also showed ‘‘very, very loose internal financial controls’’ in the DDDA, she said.

The two inquiries had gone as far as the DDDA could go in terms of its internal documentation, and whether further action was needed was a matter for Gormley, Brennan said. The close links between the agency and Anglo Irish Bank have also been criticised by opposition parties.

Sean FitzPatrick, former Anglo chairman, was on the DDDA board, which was chaired by another Anglo director, Lar Bradshaw. Brennan said that Anglo was a very ‘‘pro-developer’’ bank and there had been ‘‘a significant influence by the bank on the culture of the authority’’.

The authority has fast-track planning powers under which it can give developers planning permission that cannot then be appealed. However, its use of these powers in granting planning permission to a Liam Carroll development was heavily criticised in a High Court judgment in a case taken against the authority by developer Sean Dunne.

Brennan said the authority was keen to maintain its fast-track planning powers and said that new procedures had been introduced to ensure the independence of this process. There have been significant changes and cost-cutting at the DDDA since Brennan became chairman in March. In July, former chief executive Paul Maloney resigned almost a year ahead of the end of his contract, although he was paid to the end of his contract term. Brennan said that the authority felt that paying Maloney was the correct step to take at the time. Most of the DDDA’s staff are on fixed-term contracts, and job numbers are falling quickly due to non-replacement of staff.

There were 55 staff at the start of this year, but this has fallen to 38 now, and the plan is to have 22 staff by the end of next year. Among those due to leave are John McLaughlin, director of architecture and planning, whose contract expires next month.

The DDDA is moving from its headquarters on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, which it will lease or sell, back to its former headquarters on Custom House Quay.

Sunday Business Post

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