MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley appointed an inspector to review Dublin City Council’s planning performance on foot of a “dossier” compiled by An Taisce, which claimed that it was operating in breach of the city development plan.
In a letter to Mr Gormley last October, Ian Lumley and Kevin Duff of An Taisce alleged the council had “acted systematically in disregarding” the plan, contravened ministerial planning guidelines and shown “serious impropriety in the conduct of its functions”.
Assistant city manager Michael Stubbs, who is in charge of planning and economic development, said the council would be responding to the dossier by July 16th. A Fine Gael councillor Rory McGinley said the An Taisce dossier was “over the top”.
They claimed unnamed senior officials had been “encouraging landowners and developers to lodge planning applications [for high-rise buildings] in breach of the Dublin City Development Plan and ministerial guidelines”.
In a follow-up letter to the Minister on February 1st last, Mr Lumley said: “We believe that these actions were key to the enormous sums loaned by banks which fuelled the inflation of the property bubble and the downfall of the entire economy . . .”
He cited a comment by developer Seán Dunne on March 15th, 2008, hailing the council’s management and planners as “the unsung heroes of Ireland”, in the wake of their decision to approve the bulk of his scheme for the Jurys/Berkeley Court site in Ballsbridge.
Mr Lumley said this was “reflective, not of work done to ensure proper planning for the city . . . but rather the extraordinary lengths officials went to in drawing up and promoting variations to the development plan in order that they could grant permission . . .”
The council’s handling of the Jurys/Berkeley Court site was one of 19 cases cited by An Taisce in its complaint to the Minister, which noted Mr Gormley was already investigating an “extensive submission” made by residents of Ballsbridge against the scheme.
“This case, and the extensive documentation provided, showed an absolute disregard by senior management and personnel in the planning section of Dublin City Council to the provision of the Dublin City Development Plan and ministerial guidelines,” it claimed.
In another case, involving the former Carlton Cinema site and adjacent properties on O’Connell Street, An Taisce said the council’s planners had “actively encouraged the applicant [Chartered Land] to include an ‘iconic high-rise feature’ in the central portion of the site”. An Bord Pleanála did not share this view and called for the scheme to be redesigned, omitting the proposed 13-storey high- rise element as well as reassessing the scale of the opening on O’Connell Street and the extent of demolition there and in Moore Street.
In the Ballsbridge case, An Bord Pleanála overturned the council’s decision to grant a partial permission to Mr Dunne, saying the dense high-rise scheme would constitute “gross over-development” of the seven-acre site, “at odds with the established character” of the area.
Another case cited by An Taisce involves the plan by Arnotts for a new city quarter bounded by Henry Street, Upper Liffey Street and Middle Abbey Street. Its 16-storey tower, approved by the council, was rejected by the appeals board as “unduly obtrusive on the skyline”.
Its decision had “set down a very clear marker of the appropriate scale of development in a location in proximity to the GPO and O’Connell Street”, An Taisce said. “Dublin City Council entirely disregarded this in its consideration of the . . . development.” What was “particularly striking” in several other cases, An Taisce said, was “the manner in which the city council has deliberately ignored the implications of An Bord Pleanála decisions” in dealing with subsequent planning applications for the same site, or adjoining sites.
Mr Lumley claimed the draft development plan for the period 2011-2017, which is being finalised, “contains provisions designed to open the floodgates for grossly over-scaled developments . . . thus, in one fell swoop, destroying the character of the city ...”
An Taisce argued there were now “overwhelming grounds to prorogue the planning function of Dublin City Council and to appoint a commissioner under Section 255(4), Planning and Development Act 2000, in order to restore public confidence” in the process.
CRITICISM REJECTED VIEWS ON OFFICIALS' PERFORMANCE 'OVER THE TOP':
MICHAEL STUBBS, assistant city manager in charge of planning and economic development, said it was intended to respond to the issues raised in An Taisce’s “dossier” by July 16th, as requested.An Taisce’s criticism of the competence of Dublin City Council’s planning officials was “over the top”, according to Cllr Ruairí McGinley (FG), who said he saw no reason to “prorogue” the council’s planning functions.
“There have been very few complaints about planning function in Dublin city, with exception of the Ballsbridge site,” he said.
This was a reference to a number of controversies, notably over the Jurys/Berkeley Court site.
By calling in an inspector to review the council’s planning performance, he said Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who represents Dublin South East, “seems to be confused as to which hat he’s wearing” – private citizen, TD or Government Minister.
Cllr McGinley said the Department of the Environment had “expressed satisfaction” with the council’s approach to the draft Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017 and its land use strategy.“Maybe they should advise the Minister,” he suggested.
He said An Taisce’s claim that Dublin City Council’s planning decisions had been a factor in fuelling the property bubble was “wildly inaccurate”, as responsibility for the bubble “lies with the Government of which John Gormley is a member”.
“The comments in relation to the competence of city officials are similarly over the top,” he said.