Friday 30 May 2008

Taskforce to look at port relocation

Minister for the Environment John Gormley has announced the establishment of a taskforce to advise on the future of Dublin Bay with a mandate that includes "removing" Dublin Port and seeking "sustainable redevelopment" of its 650-acre land area.

Irish Times

Hedgerow row

THE National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is investigating the spraying of hedgerows in Meath to determine if wildlife legislation could have been breached, the Dept of the Environment has confirmed.

The Wildlife legislation governs the cutting of hedges and clearing of vegetation during the bird nesting season which runs from Ist March to 31st August.

Environment Minister, John Gormley, has sent a circular to all local authorities in the country following complaints about the Meath spraying incident to remind them about the legislation.

A spokesman for the Dept of the Environment yesterday (Tuesday) said the minister would not make any decision about whether a prosecution was appropriate until the NPWS reported back on its findings.

One local resident, Jim Byrne, Athboy Road, said that he and neighbours were very annoyed about the spraying operation when they noticed that hedges appeared to be wilting. Mr Byrne also observed five small dead birds in the area of his house alone. He said that it was not normal for this to occur and it was his understanding that the locality was a Special Conservation Area (SAC).

The funding for spraying to eliminate the ragworth hazard on grass verges all around the country was made available by the National Roads Authority (NRA).

Meath County Council director of services, Eugene Cummins, said yesterday (Tuesday) that, from initial surveys, it seemed that reports of the damage caused by the spraying in the county had been "grossly exaggerated". The area impacted upon was very small, said Mr Cummins.

A Sunday newspaper had referred to 400kms of hedgerow being sprayed with herbicide by a contractor employed by Meath County Council. Mr Cummins clarified this, saying that the entire national road network in Meath was 200kms. This was equivalent to 400kms of verges. However, it was not correct to equate the length of hedgerows in the county with the total of the verges.

Mr Cummins added that, in 2007, the council had been "inundated" with phone calls from the general public demanding what the local authority was doing about ragwort on the roadsides. A weed which is hazardous to humans but particularly to animals, ragwort had steadily made inroads in Meath and the spraying operation, in conjunction with the NRA, had been initiated to combat this hazard. The NRA also prepared guidelines control of weeds.

As far as Meath County Council was concerned, said Mr Cummins, it had followed the guidelines. "Notwithstanding that, it seems that, in some areas, there was some overspraying which would have affected the leafy parts of some plants," said the council director of services.

National conservation body, An Taisce, expressed alarm at the operation. A spokeswoman, Anja Murray, said that the spraying had happened at a time when songbirds were busily feeding nests full of hatchlings. Ms Murray said their food supply depended on plants. The danger to "bubblebees, butterflies, hedgerows, indeed the whole hedgerow ecosystem" was source of grave concern to An Taisce. She was also worried about possible long-term impact on aquatic life such as frogs and fish.

The circular sent to all the local authorities on behalf of Mr Gormley directed their attention to the requirements of Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended by Section 46 of the Wildlife Amendment Act, 2000, in relation to the cutting of hedges and the clearing of vegetation during the bird nesting season from Ist March to 31 st. August.

The National Biodiversity Plan, adopted by Government in 2002, recognises that hedgerows provide important habitats for a variety of species and states "for the future, the overall goal should be to have no net loss of the hedgerow resource".

The minister's circular urges councils to convey the message to people in the organisations who have any involvement in organising or managing operations involving roadside trimming, hedge-cutting or other operations that might require the clearance of vegetation. The circular also refers to the role of contractors.

Infringements by local authorities would be viewed particularly seriously, said the circular, and wildlife staff of the Dept had been asked to pay special attention to this. Notices are being placed in national newspapers setting out the substance of the law regarding hedge-cutting.

The minister referred to the local authorities' role in "guardianship of hedgerows". He said he was pleased to note evidence of an improvement in compliance by local authorities and he welcomed the leadership that had been shown by a number of them in this regard.

Meath Green party vice-1 chairman, Fergal O'Byrne, outlined his concerns about the use of herbicide. He said that many studies had shown that the use of herbicides had negative affects on hedgerows, impacting on leaves, flowers, green berries and mature berries. He urged Meath County Council to include a full environmental risk assessment and impact analysis into any contact agreement with any subcontractors prior to works commencing.

Meath Chronicle

Stradbally campaign pays off as mast is turned down

"WITH a bit of luck they won't come back," was Una Lalor's wish when she spoke about the decision of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to refuse planning permission to Eircom to erect a 25m mast at their exchange at The Mill, Chapel Lane in Stradbally.

The decision has been welcomed in Stradbally.

Local people met on Monday evening to discuss the decision and were guarded in their welcome.

Secretary of the Mast Appeal Group Dominic Hartnett, while glowing in his praise for the support from the people of the town in rejecting the mast, urged caution, telling people Eircom still had an opportunity to go to the courts in an attempt to challenge the decision made last week by An Bord Pleanála.

He said it had cost the community approximately 5,000 to lodge their objections to the mast which he said would have been located just five-meters from a residential area.

He said funding to support their campaign had come from the Stradbally Tidy Town's Group, the Stradbally Electric Picnic Committee and the Stradbally Community Development Association.

Mr Hartnett said the local campaign had attracted over 310 objections from all areas of the town.

The campaign's slogan was ‘Spot the Difference.' Mr Hartnett said the reason that was used was in 1998 Laois County Council had refused a planning application to Eircom which was similar to the recent one it had granted planning permission for.

"Our committee had developed our campaign around the poster showing the mast in 1998 and in 2007 and asked both Laois Co Council and An Bord Pleanála to ‘Spot the Difference'.

"We went back to the old records and showed that both Laois County Council and An Board Pleanála had refused the siting of a mast in the town, and now the new application wanted to move the mast closer into the town and beside a new local social housing scheme that was developed by Laois Co Council."

Seamus Lalor said he was delighted with the outcome and delighted so much support was shown to the campaign by people of the town.

Gerry Kelly said: "I'd like to thank ABP for having a bit of sense to put this down. The committee worked very hard on this for over five months."

Mr Hartnett described the funding spent on the community's "as a complete waste of money" and said it could and should have been used in developing the community.

"The spending of much needed community funding as a result of the planning department in the county granting permission, the same department who had refused the siting of a mast in the town in 1998 will now be looked at, and we will hope that the county manager will give us the same time and a meeting as he gave to the applicant when they first came looking for permission."

In assessing the approach taken by the community in their appeal Mr Hartnett said: "We didn't go out shouting and roaring. We kept focused on the issue and worked within the planning appeal guidelines set out. It was a totally focused campaign that paid off."

Joe Barrett
Laois Nationalist

Stradbally campaign pays off as mast is turned down

"WITH a bit of luck they won't come back," was Una Lalor's wish when she spoke about the decision of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to refuse planning permission to Eircom to erect a 25m mast at their exchange at The Mill, Chapel Lane in Stradbally.

The decision has been welcomed in Stradbally.

Local people met on Monday evening to discuss the decision and were guarded in their welcome.

Secretary of the Mast Appeal Group Dominic Hartnett, while glowing in his praise for the support from the people of the town in rejecting the mast, urged caution, telling people Eircom still had an opportunity to go to the courts in an attempt to challenge the decision made last week by An Bord Pleanála.

He said it had cost the community approximately 5,000 to lodge their objections to the mast which he said would have been located just five-meters from a residential area.

He said funding to support their campaign had come from the Stradbally Tidy Town's Group, the Stradbally Electric Picnic Committee and the Stradbally Community Development Association.

Mr Hartnett said the local campaign had attracted over 310 objections from all areas of the town.

The campaign's slogan was ‘Spot the Difference.' Mr Hartnett said the reason that was used was in 1998 Laois County Council had refused a planning application to Eircom which was similar to the recent one it had granted planning permission for.

"Our committee had developed our campaign around the poster showing the mast in 1998 and in 2007 and asked both Laois Co Council and An Bord Pleanála to ‘Spot the Difference'.

"We went back to the old records and showed that both Laois County Council and An Board Pleanála had refused the siting of a mast in the town, and now the new application wanted to move the mast closer into the town and beside a new local social housing scheme that was developed by Laois Co Council."

Seamus Lalor said he was delighted with the outcome and delighted so much support was shown to the campaign by people of the town.

Gerry Kelly said: "I'd like to thank ABP for having a bit of sense to put this down. The committee worked very hard on this for over five months."

Mr Hartnett described the funding spent on the community's "as a complete waste of money" and said it could and should have been used in developing the community.

"The spending of much needed community funding as a result of the planning department in the county granting permission, the same department who had refused the siting of a mast in the town in 1998 will now be looked at, and we will hope that the county manager will give us the same time and a meeting as he gave to the applicant when they first came looking for permission."

In assessing the approach taken by the community in their appeal Mr Hartnett said: "We didn't go out shouting and roaring. We kept focused on the issue and worked within the planning appeal guidelines set out. It was a totally focused campaign that paid off."

Joe Barrett
Laois Nationalist

Environment Minister a 'nosey parker'

LABOUR councillor Johnny Mee referred to the Minister of the Environment, John Gormley TD, as a 'nosey parker' for his interference with the Castlebar Town Development Plan. Cllr Mee said that the councillors on the ground knew what was best for the town and he said he never knew a Minister who was as interfering in local affairs and referred to him as a 'nosey parker' and a 'busy-body'.

Mayo News

Council: No holiday homes on golf courses

A MOVE to allow some cash-strapped Kerry golf clubs to build holiday homes on courses has been stymied by the local authority.

The county has more 20 golf courses, some of them rated among the best in the world, but some of the lesser -known clubs are scrambling to survive.

A fall-off in American golfing tourists and an unfavourable exchange rate for the dollar against the euro have landed some clubs in the rough this season.

With a downward trend in tourism and green fee revenue dropping, holiday homes are seen as a money making ace for clubs - whether sold or rented.

Fianna Fáil councillor Anne McEllistrim suggested to Kerry Co Council management that "favourable consideration" be given to clubs seeking planning permission to build holiday homes that would help them get out of the red.

However, other councillors and senior planning engineer Tom Sheehy believed clubs were out of bounds when the issue arose during a debate on a new Kerry County Development Plan.

Mr Sheehy said that if a golf club was allowed to build holiday homes and later went out of business, the council could be obliged to take over developments where there were two or more houses.

Viability of golf clubs should not be a reason for allowing holiday homes, he said. "If a club is unviable, even 10 holiday homes won't make it viable," Mr Sheehy said. "If that's the situation, a club will go under, with or without holiday homes."

Cllr Robert Beasley (SF) said golf had peaked a long time ago and holiday homes would not make courses viable. The huge growth in golf courses and the numbers of people playing golfing, in the 1980s and 1990s, has peaked, he said.

"There's now a surplus of golf facilities in some areas of the southwest, as clubs compete for members and green fee business. Many people who in former times might have taken up golf are now opting for other leisure pursuits, such as swimming, health centres, walking and cycling, " Cllr Beasley said.

Meanwhile, a nine-hole golf course at Tralee Racecourse closed recently.

At the same time, the promoters of a multi-million euro golf course at Inch, in the Dingle Peninsula, are still seeking the go-ahead from Environment Minister John Gormley.

An Bord Pleanála approved the project in 1997, but it has since been held up due to conservation and environmental issues and needs ministerial approval as it is a proposed Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Golf course designer Dr Arthur Spring, who has drawn up plans for Inch, claimed a well planned golf course development would only enhance the Inch sand dunes and beach area.

Inch, he said, had lost out in tourism but he believed a course would be viable and would attract upwards of 20,000 golfers to the area each year.

Donal Hickey
Irish Examiner

Sligo by-pass route selection: 'residents were treated disgracefully'

The Mayor of Sligo, Clr. Jonathan McGoldrick, has claimed that residents have been ‘treated disgracefully' in the process to select a route for the controversial western by-pass.The Mayor, who lives in an area close to the preferred route, told Monday's meeting of Sligo Borough Council that there was widespread anger in the area over the fact that a route which had been rejected by the County Council some years ago was now back on the agenda.

Recalling that a unanimous decision had been taken by Sligo County Council to reject the proposal some years ago, Clr. Arthur Gibbons said it was a scandalous waste of money to come back with a similar proposal at this stage.

‘White elephant'

The project was a ‘white elephant' which would destroy established residential areas if it was allowed to go ahead.

Clr. Rosaleen O'Grady said that although the Borough Council wouldn't have a vote on the route, it was only right that they should lend their support to local residents.

Projects of this kind should be brought forward in partnership but this hadn't happened on this occasion as there had been very little public consultation.

Noting that over 600 submissions had been lodged against the plan, Clr. Veronica Cawley said that was an indication of the huge volume of opposition to the route.

Clr. Declan Bree said that the issue was very much the business of the Borough Council as the vast majority of people who would be affected by the project lived within the borough.

The preferred route was totally unacceptable and he was confident that it would be rejected out of hand by the County Council.

Welcoming the fact that there would be further public consultation on the western by-pass, Clr. Chris MacManus said he hoped the County Manager would adopt a similar attitude towards the eastern bridge and would afford more consultation to the residents of Doorly Park, Martin Savage Terrace and the East Ward generally.

Clr. Jimmy McGarry recalled that the route had been withdrawn from the Development Plan following a County Council vote in 2003 and he couldn't understand how it was back on the agenda at this stage.

He said he had been a member of a delegation which met the National Roads Authority in the recent past and it had been made absolutely clear by the NRA that the western by-pass would not be considered for at least another twenty years. Why then were the officials trying to ‘push through' a route in the development plan at this stage, he asked.

Mayor, Clr. McGoldrick, who lives in the area which will be most affected by the preferred route, declared that residents had been treated in a ‘disgraceful manner' on the issue.

Referring to an earlier decision by the County Council to delete the route from the Development Plan, the Mayor said there didn't seem to be much point in elected members taking a democratic decision if the officials would seek to overturn that decision at a later date.

The planning authorities are proposing a variation of the Sligo and Environs Development Plan to protect a corridor for the western by-pass in order to ensure that no short term planning and development decisions will hinder or restrict its implementation in subsequent development period.

The County Manager has recommended that the present proposal to vary the Development Plan not be proceeded with, pending further public consultation.

Sligo Champion

Harbour to include 200-berth marina

LATEST proposals for a bigger harbour in Valentia, Co Kerry, include a 200-berth marina, it has emerged.

At an estimated development cost of €5 million, the harbour would require a floating pontoon protection wall.

Earlier this week, Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue along with Kerry county manager Tom Curran met two ministers to discuss funding for the Valentia pier and harbour.

Government funding of €2m had already been approved but a case is being made for the floating pontoon which has the backing of local groups, including the RNLI which has a lifeboat based in Valentia.

Mr O'Donoghue described the meeting with Minister for Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon Ó Cúiv and Minister of State for Fishing and Forestry Tony Killeen as positive.

"Both ministers are now fully aware of the vital importance of this proposed development for Valentia and south Kerry," Mr O'Donoghue said.

The pier is used daily by a ferry operating between Valentia and Renard.

It is reckoned a pontoon wall would give a four-fold increase in harbour capacity.

Mr O'Donoghue said, as well as providing facilities for the lifeboat to be moored closer inshore, the larger harbour would also have better facilities to develop fishing in the area.

He also said a marina development would be a boost for the harbour.

"This [marina] would provide many high quality jobs into the future related to the marine industry and the servicing of boats and leisure crafts," he said.

In recent years, marinas have been provided in other parts of Kerry including Fenit, Dingle and Caherciveen.

Donal Hickey
Irish Examiner

East Coast Recycling gets warning to cut down dust

East Coast Recycling have been warned to clean up their act after a complaint was made over the amount of dust emanating from their Murrough site. Following a complaint from a member of the public to the environmental section of Wicklow County Council, a warden from the Waste Management Section visited the site on Thursday.

As a result of the visit East Coast Recycling have been instructed to cease shredding the timber which was the main source of the dust and to also dampen down the site. The situation will be monitored over the next few days by the Council to ensure their instructions are being followed.

Nicholas Corcoran is based out by the Murrough and made the complaint to the council after noting the amount of dust originating from East Coast Recycling was causing him to feel nauseous.

I ended up with watery eyes that were very painful, pains in my head and kept feeling nauseous. I never had any problems with my health before this. I never really noticed the dust before but the winds changed direction recently to a north/easterly direction and keep blowing the dust in my direction.'

He rang up the council as soon as he noted the affect the dust was having on his health, after it is pushed back into the atmosphere when waste for recycling is placed into crushers used on the site.

While he is pleased the council have acted on his complaint, but is far from happy that the incident occurred at all.

It' an absolute disgrace that we have this. It's an environmental hazard. You could see tiny bits of timber, little speckles, gathering on cars and other objects when the dust blew over.'

Wicklow People

Decision on bioenergy waste plant delayed

PROMOTERS of a bio-energy plant which would be located close to champion trainer Aidan O’Brien’s south Tipperary base will have to wait until late July for a planning decision.

An Bord Pleanála was due to make a ruling this month on the application by Green Organics Energy for the €100 million plant, which would take a large portion of Irish meat factories’ slaughterhouse waste, on a site near Rosegreen, between Clonmel and Cashel.

However, the volume of evidence and documents generated by a two-week oral hearing earlier in the year, as well as up to 800 submissions, has lengthened the time involved in making a decision.

A spokesperson for An Bord Pleanála said yesterday that it will now be the end of July at the earliest before a judgement can be made on the application.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in the case so it has been put back,” he said.

There has already been speculation that the process could stretch into the autumn.

South Tipperary County Council has already rejected the application for the animal by-products bio-energy plant and the oral hearing conducted by Derek Daly was called after appeals to the board.

Among hundreds of objectors are Aidan O’Brien and his wife Anne-Marie O’Brien, Coolmore Stud, South Tipperary for Clean Industry, some local politicians, a local school and residents’ groups.

The objectors say the plant would generate too much traffic, lead to odours as was the case when an animal waste rendering operation was carried out previously on the site and threaten local water sources.

Aidan O’Brien also told the hearing that it would be “the end of Ballydoyle” as a thoroughbred training establishment if the site, two miles from his base, was used for such a facility.

However, Green Organics Energy — a consortium made up of site-owners Avglade, waste experts Bioverda Ltd and Dawn Meats — say that such a plant is necessary if Ireland is to deal with waste from slaughterhouses into the future, rather than exporting it.

The facility would use the processing of the waste to generate bioenergy, which would feed into the national grid, and biodiesel, with 80% of the raw materials coming from the country’s meat industry.

Irish Times

Bord rejects Bayside plan

PLANS FOR the redevelopment of Bayside Shopping Centre in Sutton, north Dublin, have been refused by An Bord Pleanála.

Bayside Centre Management Ltd was seeking to demolish the existing shopping centre to make way for a mixed-use scheme of 99 apartments and 15 shops.

Going against the advice of its own inspector, the board refused permission stating that the scheme would be "excessive in relation to its location".

Reasons given by the board for a previous refusal in 2005 have not been addressed, the board added.

Irish Times

398 homes for Arklow site with no town sewerage plant in place

GANNON HOMES is about to apply for planning permission to Arklow Town Council for a new neighbourhood at Tinahask, in Upper Wicklow bounded by the Dublin-Wexford railway line and Arklow Golf Club.

The site is part of a 98-acre master plan, comprising 398 dwellings, in a mix of three and four-bed houses, duplexes and triplexes in 11 blocks ranging form three to five storeys.

The plan also includes 40 shop units, a supermarket, off-licence, 24 office suites and a financial service unit, seven medical suites, two pubs, a café, restaurants with hot food take-away, two betting offices, two crechès, two playgrounds and a park.

Irish Times

Bord says yes to Sean Mulryan's plans for 440 homes in Baldoyle

SEAN MULRYAN’S Helsingor has got planning permission for 440 homes as part of the fourth phase of a residential development on former racecourse lands at Baldoyle, Co Dublin.

In granting planning permission, An Bord Pleanála overruled its own inspector’s recommendation to refuse planning permission and disagreed with the inspector’s appraisal that there was a disproportionate split between the number of houses and apartments which would have a negative impact on achieving the overall objections of the Area Action Plan.

As well as over 440 units – made up of apartments, duplexes and houses in seven blocks, and a small number of semi-detached and detached houses – Mulryan got planning permission for a civic park and a crèche.

In March he got approval from An Bord Pleanála for a development of around 400 new homes, as the third phase of the development.

On that occasion the development Mulryan proposed was sizably reduced following discussions with Fingal County Council and planning conditions imposed by An Bord Pleanála.

Elements of the scheme that have been rejected in phase three include 10,000sq m (107,639sq ft) of offices, a leisure centre and department store while the number of apartments was reduced from 482.

The development will include a medical centre, supermarket, shops, restaurants and a pub.

Around 4,000 homes are planned for the former Baldoyle racecourse and an adjoining 100-acre site in Portmarnock.

Mulryan sold a 50 per cent stake in the Baldoyle and Portmarnock lands to Séamus Ross of Menolly Homes for € 95 million in 2004.

Mulryan, whose main development company is Ballymore Properties, acquired the racecourse in 1999 for about £30 million from developer John Byrne.

Irish Times

Ormond Quay pontoon appealed

A DUBLIN architect is one of three parties to appeal planning permission for a floating pontoon at Lower Ormond Quay to An Bord Pleanála because of the impact it would have on the view of the Ha’penny Bridge from the River Liffey “one of the most iconic in Dublin”.

Patrick Shaffrey of Shaffrey Architects says this view of the bridge is “one of the essential Dublin images transmitted all over the world”.

In April, Dublin City Council granted Irish Ship and Barge Fabrication Co Ltd planning permission for the venture. The pontoon, a 120-metre “floating street”, would be cobbled and positioned off the Liffey Boardwalk. The proposal is that visitors will be able to sit at tables on the pontoon, and order coffee from two former Guinness barges refurbished as a café and restaurant. The pontoon will be part of a €9 million plan to rescue and restore four 80ft former Guinness barges from the sea off the coast of Northern Ireland. Some of the barges will operate cruises on the Liffey, while a separate fleet of ferries will collect and drop off passengers at 12 points on the river.

An Taisce has also appealed the proposal saying that, while the initiative to revive the former Guinness barges is welcome and would increase activity on the river, it is premature pending the “City Quays Framework Plan”.

It says over the past number of years there has been “a non-stop onslaught of controversial proposals or plans for the Liffey”, including the Suas cable car, a giant steel sculpture in the river beside the Seán O’Casey Bridge and the “flying saucer” proposed for over the Clarence Hotel.

“The proposed development would be contrary to Dublin City Council’s policies for a new development in conservation areas and would adversely impact on the setting of the protected structure, the Ha’penny Bridge,” says the appeal.

TASCQ (Traders in the Area Supporting the Cultural Quarter Limited) say this part of the river regularly has low levels of water and the logical place to put the pontoon is below Butt Bridge where “the water is deep and the river adequately wide”. It says the narrowest point of the Liffey, down-river of O’Donovan Rossa Bridge, is at the bend in the river where the pontoon is proposed.

“The concentrated bulk of the pontoon and the moored boats, intruding 20 metres in the river, will cause obstruction and congestion for other river users.”

Irish Times

Judging architecture

Emma Cullinan was one of the judges at this year's RIAI awards. She gives an insight into how the winning schemes were chosen.

THERE WERE 217 entries to the RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) awards this year - the highest ever - and it is breathtaking to see presentations of these projects laid out on tables across two rooms in the RIAI offices. All that hard work - all that hope.

You could not judge architecture alone, it is a somewhat subjective pursuit, although time enough in the profession brings objectivity too. Here there was a lovely mix of assessors offering various tastes and insights.

In some cases it's easy to pick award winners - good architecture just is - and the whole jury immediately concurs.

There are clear losers too. How can an architectural-award jury give prizes to pseudo-Tudor or Mock Georgian housing schemes? They may be much loved among their target audience but they are not clever and cutting-edge. They enter the contest all the same.

Beyond the obvious choices it gets fuzzy: where one jury member likes a style and the others aren't so sure, or where a scheme has good aspects but they don't quite add up to a delightful whole. Or where there's a divine plan and devilish massing.

Chair Joan O'Connor displayed her project-management talents in ushering us through the process at a cracking pace. The awards are in categories and all six judges (including Rob Docter, Greg Tisdall, Paul Keogh and Nicki Matthews) looked at everything in each class before coming together to discuss.

While Joan would give her view first she was quite happy to be challenged and everything being advocated by anybody was left on the table, ready for someone to fight its corner. Gradually the schemes were whittled to around seven projects: one winning the award, two highly commended, two commended and then two or more exhibitions.

So if you felt passionate enough about a building you needed to champion it - sometimes alone; thinking, 'if only the architect could see me now'.

Sometimes you would hear another judge defending a project in terms you agreed with and would join with them. In one rare case the judges were split over the award in one category - lining up, three against three. Both contenders were buildings of beauty but different in style.

At times like this you realise how the same word means different things to different architectural assessors: some using "austere" to praise a building's wonderful sense of restraint while others employ the word to criticise a structure's severity.

As with semantics, so with style. When is a pitched-roof, white walled house a clever, contemporary twist on Irish vernacular and when is it a lazy, quick-draw, cheap-build house type? Not always clear if the photography is excellent. The entries were anonymous - although many were known to, and had been seen by, us judges - so you could not necessarily rely on knowledge of an architect's reputation for design and detailing in all cases.

The quality was mainly clear, though, in the massing, composition, detailing (a clever twist on tradition that says something new or bog standard?) and quota of plastic wrecking the elevations. You don't, after all, see white polymer piping running down the front of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water or swan neck guttering clutching the roof of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth glass house. Good architecture sees it through from foundation to gutter (although that might involve a battle with the client).

Similarly, while the submissions could be, and were often, pleasingly straightforward and basic, clarity of presentation was appreciated; if the submission comprised creased, murky colour photocopies on standard photocopying paper all bundled into one envelope together you did wonder as to the quality of detailing in the buildings.

Gradually criteria and buzzwords emerged to help in the selection and to keep up the momentum. "Derivative" derogatively referred to buildings that had been designed by casting around current world trends and sticking a selection of these together in a less than harmonious composition. Or it meant that a building was concentrating on one particular style: I was fond of a brick housing scheme but it was dismissed as being too Dutch school (which caused the Dutch assessor, Rob Docter, to raise his eyebrows quizzically), another building was "too Libeskind". That said, rather those buildings that have a go at something new than those which go for the lowest common denominator.

Judging these awards gives a snapshot of what is happening countrywide and the view is good. Many designers are striving for a new design language for Ireland. Some of it may not be world-class architecture but it is better than so much that has gone before.

Conversely there is still much inhumane corporate architecture. Big "luxurious" schemes that have had plenty of publicity just couldn't impress the design judges: injecting a building with bling doesn't necessarily make it sing.

Another phrase used against office design was "four-pipe fan coil air con": if an office was designed in such a way - for instance with a deep plan - that it looked as if it might require air conditioning then that counted against it. Hospital projects that showed swish photos of communal areas and none of the actual wards got short shrift as did schemes that had won an award for an earlier phase.

Buildings photographed and drawn on their own, without showing how they fit into the surrounding area, made the judges wary.

One judge pointed out that golf backwards is "flog" and such schemes had that notion suspiciously hanging over them.

Some projects were moved into new categories, especially one that was in a category all of its own. You can be clever in awards by choosing classes that have few entrants. Mixed-used schemes were in the happy position of being able to enter a variety of categories. Sometimes that could hinder - the good ones can't be given awards in all of the categories thus sweeping the board - and at other times it helped. The unskilful apartment design could be ignored while another aspect of the scheme could take a bow.

Also, architects could win in one category for one building and get nothing in another category for a different project.

The winning designs tended to have gone beyond the brief. The client comments were telling. An animal shelter group said: "Our architects spent so much effort in putting together an aesthetic and contemporary feel to the exterior but to us, who spend eight and 10 hours a day using it, the outside is actually immaterial." Luckily the architects went well beyond that requirement and nabbed a design award in the process. We found it both strange and delightful to be celebrating a dog's home. Similarly a hair salon in Cork. The retail category was fairly depressing. This is the face of architecture that most people see and yet - hey ho - the usual plain white walls and stark lighting. Yet an architect had taken the salon brief and created a double-height space along with small rooms that had views through to other parts of the building, helped by jauntily placed mirrors and glass.

Similarly, many architects deserve bravery awards. Design is taking a little pause - as is the property market - as architects have to work out where to go next and competent designers who explore new styles are heroic.

You be the judge: vote for your favourite from the shortlist on www. from June 4th

The awards will be presented at CHQ in Dublin's Docklands, on June 23rd, hosted by Ryan Tubridy.

The Irish Times

Home Truths

House sizes for the super-rich are out of proportion, says Edel Morgan .

I'VE NOTICED that Ireland's wealthy need more space than ever to rattle around in.

There was a time when 465sq m (5,000sq ft) was considered ample room but now a good 1,022sq m (11,000sq ft) is required and a room for every eventuality before a house is deemed habitable - for a few years anyway until the walls start closing in and the realisation dawns that there's simply nowhere to put the Roman-style indoor pool with marble columns.

Homes of 743-1,022sq m (8,000-11,000sq ft) are no longer a rarity in this country. It's almost as if some kind of one upmanship has been going on among Ireland's rich who've been busy over the past number of years demolishing cramped quarters of 279-743sq m (3,000-8,000sq ft) and replacing them with something more proportionate to their bank balances (unless An Bord Pleanála says otherwise of course).

Others have been busy excavating and extending in every direction, or moving somewhere bigger (although fewer are taking this option in the current market).

The more money, the more the possibilities and many seem intent on exploiting them to the full. Why just have a home when you can have a mini-hotel?

The latest must-have is a home spa with a massive bath, sauna and steam room - an essential for spa parties.

Then there's the cinema, gym, swimming pool, games room, home bar, catering kitchen with 10 ovens and a range, formal reception rooms, family rooms, suites for each of the children, as well as a formal kitchen with Aga that turns into a ballroom at the touch of a button (only a slight exaggeration).

Then there's the staff quarters for the nanny, the au pair and live-in housekeeper.

A house of 1,022sq m (11,000sq ft) - at more than nine times the size of my house - is great for playing hide and seek but I can't help wondering if one could actually lose small children in a house that size and whether you'd need a loudspeaker to get the attention of family members or staff?

Telecoms magnate Denis O'Brien was looking to knock Belmont, his bijoux 743sq m (8,000sq ft) house on Shrewsbury Road and build a 2,044sq m (22,000sq ft) house with an indoor swimming pool, spa, staff quarters and six reception rooms.

An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission but, if history had been different, would he have had to issue guests with a map and compass upon arrival? If not, would he have allowed them to go to the powder room unaccompanied, or risk them never finding their way back?

Of course the bigger the house, the more the layers of complication.

For upkeep there's the team of tradesmen, cleaners, a supervisor to oversee the cleaners, groundsmen, security staff, a caretaker, and an interior designer on call.

Decor-wise, the attention to detail tends to be staggering with bespoke and antique furniture all the way - a three-seater from Ikea could be tantamount to social death.

A sweeping central staircase is a prerequisite for the big entrance and multiple chandeliers are obligatory.

It helps to get one up on your peers by being the first to have something like a height adjustable basement swimming pool or a diamond encrusted door knob - all the rage in London apparently at a cost of €25,000 per knob, or the less expensive Swarovski crystals version for around €322 per knob.

Am I jealous? Absolutely. The nearest I'm going to get to acquiring a sprawling hacienda the way things stand is if I move to Cavan.

The Irish Times

Carlton site redevelopment

Madam, - The Moore Street Traders Committee represents all the street's market traders and is elected annually.

We were disappointed to read Matt Doyle of the National Graves Association (May 27th) suggesting that the proposed Carlton site redevelopment would spell the end of one of Dublin's most famous streets.

We have been working closely with the people behind the Carlton project for the past 18 months because our future and the market's future depends on this development going ahead. The current Moore Street is dilapidated and unattractive and, contrary to what Mr Doyle thinks, ordinary Dubliners and tourists are getting fewer and fewer.

We treasure our national monument but we also welcome development. We have seen the plans for the development and the monument has pride of place in a newly rejuvenated Moore Street market. This is good for the city. - Yours, etc,

MARGARET HANWAY, ERNIE BEGGS, TOM HOLBROOK, MARY LEECH, Moore Street Traders, Moore Street, Dublin 1 .

The Irish Times

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Bogged down by bureaucracy

Repeated reviews and constant consultations have halted progress and stifled innovation in our transport network, writes Tim O'Brien

ON MONDAY May 12th, the Department of Transport announced the end of public consultation on its sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan. On Monday May 19th, the Minister, Noel Dempsey, announced the start of a period of public consultation on the Future of Transport in Dublin.

In the week between, the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO) called for the public to engage in consultation on its new Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow) for the period up to 2030.

The new DTO strategy will replace the DTO Platform for Change 2000-2016. The Platform for Change is similar, but not the same, as the Dublin elements in yet another policy document: Transport 21.

Confused? Well you ought to be. The State's policy in relation to air and sea ports, road and rail plans, even road safety strategies and the encompassing legislative framework is, and has been for a decade, beset by review and counter review.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) is proceeding with the 1999 plan to link Dublin to regional cities and the Border by motorways or high quality dual carriageways, having reviewed the 1998 Roads Needs Study. It subsequently reviewed both the cost and timescale of the plan.

A controversy over the maximum height of lorries on Irish roads led to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern announcing in 2006 that the maximum height of lorries using the Dublin Port Tunnel would be 4.65 metres and any lorries higher than that should be "turned back" in the port. This is currently under review by the North South body InterTrade Ireland, which recently recommended a standard maximum height North and South of 4.95 metres.

The NRA also reviewed the use of 2+1 lane roads and decided they should be replaced by 2+2 roads. It also reviewed the dropping of plans for the Eastern Bypass which it says should again be Government policy.

Dublin Port itself was subject of a review by the Progressive Democrats, whose former leader and tánaiste Michael McDowell called for the Government to relocate the port to north County Dublin and build "Manhattan" in the docklands. Plans to relocate the port or reclaim additional land in Dublin Bay are currently under review by Government, although both are said to be progressing.

Séamus Brennan's 2003 plan to set up Cork and Shannon airports as independent entities free from debt was reviewed by the Government and the plan is now that they should be partially free from debt.

The Strategic Rail Review was published by Brennan in 2003 and this found against the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor and the Dublin to Navan line. This was reviewed by the Government in 2005 and both schemes are now policy. Mary O'Rourke "reviewed" the plan to have a Luas link in Dublin City Centre, and this review was subsequently reviewed. We now know that there will be a link but we don't know exactly when.

The plan to ban private cars from Dublin City Centre in 2010, in time for the construction of Metro, was "reviewed" by the Oireachtas Committee on Transport. Committee chairman Frank Fahy proposed in a draft report that this be brought forward to 2009. But, following prompting from his committee members and the City Business Association, this plan is under review.

In road safety terms, a plan to roll out speed cameras across the State was first mooted in 1987, by Dempsey and Bertie Ahern. It was never actually reviewed, but it has not happened either. Nor has the plan to reduce the acceptable level of alcohol in drivers' blood.

In legislative terms we have had the 2007 Roads Act, the 2008 Dublin Transport Authority Bill, and the soon-to-be launched review of the 1932 Transport Act.

And we haven't even started on the M50!

The Irish Times

Council says yes to Hume Street Hospital plan

DUBLIN CITY Council has given the green light for the redevelopment of the former Hume Street Hospital, which was purchased by businessman Michael Kelly for €30 million in 2006.

The prestigious building off St Stephen's Green will be transformed into a serviced office centre while a restaurant and wellness centre will be installed in the basement.

There will also be a public museum in an extension at the rear of the former hospital.

However, the council has imposed 17 separate conditions on the development, many of which relate to the site's architectural and archaeological conservation.

Kelly's serviced office company, Glandore House, submitted a similar planning application last year but the local authority rejected it on the grounds that it breached the city's development plan for the area and failed to comply with the property's Z8 zoning requirements.

The proposal was judged to be an over development because of its "excessive scale, bulk, massing and site coverage" and it was regarded as "a serious intrusion on the character and setting of the protected structure".

Glandore House, which runs two business centres in Dublin and a third in Belfast, was also criticised for allocating too much of the property to office use, contravening the Z8 zoning. But in its refusal, the council stated it might have relaxed these restrictions had the proposal delivered a "clear conservation gain".

In this second application Glandore House has committed itself to extensive conservation repair work on the protected structures of 3-8 Hume street and 16 Ely Place.

The company has permission to demolish a number of buildings at the rear of the five interconnecting Georgian houses that front onto Hume Street and intends to replace them with a four-storey atrium and a six-storey business centre with 16 car-parking spaces in the basement.

However, the council's numerous conditions mean Mr Kelly's plans for a restaurant and wellness centre in the basement of the Georgian properties could be in jeopardy if a significant archaeological discovery is made there. If that happens, the local authority has stipulated that any remains must be preserved in situ.

In addition to the various conservation requirements, the council has also imposed noise restrictions on the demolition and construction phases of the scheme and requested that Glandore House pay €108,799.80 towards the construction of the Metro in accordance with Section 49 of the Development Act 2000-2006.

Architects, P&A Lavin Associates, has drafted the new design for the former Hume Street Hospital, which was originally known as the Dublin City Skin & Cancer Hospital. Founded in 1911 by Andrew Charles FRCSI, the Hume Street houses, including the portico entrance, were built by the surgeon and property developer Gustavas Hume in the latter part of the 18th century.

The Irish Times

Work starts on 63-metre tower beside the Dart in south docklands

DEVELOPMENT WORK has just begun on a 15-storey office tower next to Grand Canal Dock Dart station on Barrow Street in Dublin 4.

The landmark Montevetro block is being developed by Treasury Holdings on a half-acre sidings site originally used by CIÉ to refuel trains. Treasury has taken a 999-year lease on the property and entered a rent-sharing agreement with the State company.

The building will stand 63 metres above the dock and will have a floor area of over 18,580sq m (200,000sq ft).

Mark Pollard, Treasury's director of development, says the fully flexible floor plates will average 1,579sq m (17,000sq ft) while three penthouse floors will each have 650sq m (7,000sq ft). One of the features is to be a huge south-facing terrace extending to one-fifth of an acre on the 11th floor - about 50 metres above ground level.

The block, which will be ready for fit-out early in 2010, is expected to be of interest to Google if it proceeds with plans to greatly expand its operation in Dublin.

Google is based on the opposite side of Barrow Street, a street that is due to be substantially upgraded by developers in the area.

The letting agents for Montevetro are HT Meagher O'Reilly and Jones Lang LaSalle.

The Irish Times

Dáil group told planning system unjust for those in rural Ireland

AN ALLEGATION that there was "neither fairness, equality, justice, democracy or accountability" in the planning system in Ireland for rural society was made at an Oireachtas committee yesterday.

Chairman of the Irish Rural Dwellers' Association (IRDA), James Doyle, made the charges to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

He told the committee that a policy of urbanisation was being forced on rural culture , with scant respect for historical settlement patterns, stretching back thousands of years.

Jim Connolly, acting secretary of the association, said his organisation's major complaint was the lack of genuine rural representation on An Bord Pleanála, and the legality of its decisions because of that.

"One of Ireland's most important industries, farming, is represented on the board since 2002 by two professional career planners who were employed by the board as senior planning inspectors at the time of their nomination by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu)," he said.

"Both of these were reappointed for a further five years by the then minister Dick Roche in 2007. They can be reappointed in 2012 for a final five-year term under the Planning Act - a potential of 15 years," he said.

Despite repeated questions to Minister for the Environment John Gormley, John O Connor, chairman of An Bord Pleanála and David Begg, chief executive of Ictu, no proper answers in relation to the nominations and appointments had been forthcoming.

He said one panel in 2001 was made up of Ictu, IFA, the ICMSA, the ICA and Muintir na Tíre and the legislation stated that only one member would be selected from this panel.

"Nonetheless, in 2002, two senior planning inspectors were appointed to the board through being nominated by the Ictu at the same time," he said.

"Given there is widespread unease regarding the total lack of rural representation on the board as well as the fact that the original appointments for five years have been extended to 10 years, the IRDA contend that nothing short of an inquiry in depth, under oath will reveal the full details surrounding the appointments," said Mr Connolly.

TDs and senators expressed support for the association's view, some claiming that rural people were being denied permission to build homes because of urban attitudes to rural areas.

The Irish Times

Residents promise to fight thermal waste treatment plant plans

LOCAL residents in the Dublin suburb of Rathcoole have vowed to oppose plans by a US waste management company to build a waste treatment plant close to the main N7 route.

A spokesperson for the Rathcoole Community Council said last night that it has serious concerns about the threat that the proposed plant at Behan’s Quarry posed to people living in the area.

It follows formal notification issued yesterday by US firm, Energy Answers International, that it will lodge an application for planning permission for the €200 million facility with An Bord Pleanála.

The company was able to bypass seeking planning permission from South Dublin County Council after An Bord Pleanála ruled last December that the project could avail of a fast-track procedure which allows strategic infrastructural developments to avoid requiring planning permission from a local authority.

Energy Answers claims its plant, which it describes as “a resource recovery project”, is the first of its kind in Ireland. It will incorporate both mechanical and thermal treatment facilities.

It objects to the term ‘incinerator’ used by opponents of the plant, including the Rathcoole Community Council.

It plans to thermally treat 356,000 tons of non-hazardous municipal solid waste each year. The company claims the process will also allow for 10% of the treated waste to be recoverable and recyclable, which can provide electricity for 43,000 homes.

Energy Answers also claims the entire project will be privately financed without the need to seek guarantees of income from local authorities.

However, a spokesperson for Rathcoole Community Council said it was concerned about the company’s track record in operating a similar plant in the US.

She also claimed local residents were worried about that prevailing south-west winds would carry any emissions from the plant in the direction of large populations in nearby Rathcoole and Tallaght.

The Rathcoole Community Council has also questioned the need for the facility on the basis that the four Dublin local authorities are supporting a similar controversial project on the Poolbeg peninsula in Ringsend.

The spokesperson said locals were suspicious that the Rathcoole plant could give the Government an excuse not to proceed with the proposed incinerator in Poolbeg.

“It would suit [Minister for the Environment] John Gormley because of the opposition he is facing in his own constituency,” she remarked.

It is expected that An Bord Pleanála will hold a public hearing into the matter before making its decision.

Irish Examiner

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Planning refusal sours land swap deal for developer

THE RISK taken by developers in acquiring sites from the State in return for providing affordable homes has been underlined by a Bord Pleanála decision to refuse permission for a major scheme in Harcourt Terrace in Dublin.

The proposed development by the Durkan Group would have replaced Harcourt Terrace Garda station and the old Film Censor's office with two apartment buildings and two office blocks, ranging in height from four to nine storeys.

In return for acquiring development rights, Durkan agreed to provide 408 affordable homes at six locations in west Dublin - a deal hailed as showing the potential for such land swaps by Des Geraghty, chairman of the Affordable Homes Partnership.

These deals are quite different to the public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements made by Dublin City Council with developer Bernard McNamara that collapsed last week.

John O'Connor, chief executive of the Affordable Homes Partnership, confirmed yesterday that the deal involving the Harcourt Terrace site was not subject to planning permission. "It was Durkans' risk, so it's unfortunate from their point of view."

He said all 408 affordable homes built by the group had been handed over and occupied. "I'm sure they will lodge a revised application for the site and that they'll get permission for some level of development - maybe not what they wanted."

An Bord Pleanála upheld appeals by local residents and An Taisce, saying the scheme "would fail to respect its context" and would "adversely impact on the setting" of a unique Regency terrace on the opposite side of Harcourt Terrace.

It also said the proposed development "would not be of the standard required to justify the removal of the existing Garda station" - an unlisted two-storey building that the board's planning inspector, Jane Dennehy, said was worthy of retention.

"I consider the two buildings, which date from the 1940s, to be fully viable and structurally sound. The Garda station is of special value and . . . the interior relatively unaltered, with terrazzo flooring, joinery and fittings fully intact and in good condition."

The Department of the Environment, in its observations on the appeal, also suggested that any future proposals for developing the 0.87-acre site should take account of the need for recognition of the "architectural significance" of the Garda station.

An Bord Pleanála noted that the site lies within a designated residential conservation area in the current Dublin city development plan, saying any scheme would require "a very high quality of design in context with its architectural surroundings".

The proposed nine-storey office block on the Grand Canal frontage of the site would "seriously injure the amenities of the area and of property in the vicinity".

Even though the city council's planners - in their decision last August to approve the Durkan scheme - had reduced the block by two storeys, the board's inspector said this would "not overcome the inappropriateness of the proposed development".

The council received more than 20 objections, including one from An Taisce, which said the scheme would need to be revised to take account of "the unique and sensitive environment of Harcourt Terrace and the scale and pattern of development on the Grand Canal".

Durkan had maintained that its "high-quality scheme" would address the shortfall of accommodation, both residential and offices, in the Dublin area by developing an "under-utilised brownfield site . . . in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development".

Irish Times

Longer trams to carry 2,000 extra people per hour

THE first of the Government's Transport 21 projects was completed yesterday when new, longer trams for the Luas red line service were unveiled.

The 40-metre trams will allow 2,000 extra passengers an hour to be carried between Connolly Station and Tallaght, and the trams can be extended even further to cope with additional demand.

Chief executive of the Railway Procurement Agency, Frank Allen, said the agency expected to apply for a railway order seeking permission to build Metro North within the next month.

He said it wanted to ensure it got value for money on the project -- reported to cost between €3bn and €4.5bn -- adding it was the "biggest infrastructure project" ever undertaken in the State.

"The timing of Metro North depends on the planning process and we would hope by this time next year we'll have a railway order," he said. The 2013 deadline for completion was "likely" to be met, assuming there were delays, but it was "essential we get value for money".

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said the longer trams were "good news" for commuters as capacity would be raised by 40pc.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

Court challenge to €500m gas facility

A €500 MILLION liquified natural gas facility, which was the first project to be "fast tracked" under the 2006 Strategic Infrastructure Act, may now be held up by legal actions that have been filed in the High Court.

The Kilcolgan Residents' Association and the Friends of the Irish Environment have each lodged proceedings against the decision by An Bórd Pleanála to grant planning permission to Shannon LNG to build a terminal near Tarbert, Co Kerry, in the Shannon Estuary.

Permission was granted in April after an application was lodged directly in September 2007 to An Bord Pleanála, rather than to the local planning authority, as would normally be the case.

A spokesman for Shannon LNG had no comment to make when contacted yesterday. The company is a subsidiary of the Hess LNG group in the US.

The residents' association said it was seeking a judicial review on safety, environmental and procedural grounds. No emergency plan exists for the proposed development and no marine risk assessment has been completed, it said. It also said that, during an oral hearing on the planning application held in Tralee in January, it was revealed that Kerry County Council had refused to undertake a strategic environmental assessment before rezoning the site industrial. It said this was contrary to Irish and European law.

The respondents in the case are An Bord Pleanála and the Health and Safety Authority.

Friends of the Irish Environment said it was seeking a judicial review and that the decision by An Bord Pleanála infringed "at least" five EU directives.

The plan for the terminal was first announced in May 2006. It is envisaged by Shannon LNG that construction of the facility will take three years from when construction work begins.

The terminal is to be constructed on 281 acres of 600 acres of Shannon Development owned land between Tarbert and Ballylongford, Co Kerry.

The site, which has been designated by Shannon Development for deep-water projects, is about 25 km from the national gas pipeline grid.

The terminal will provide about 50 long-term jobs and 350 jobs on average over the life of the construction programme, according to Shannon LNG.

At the time permission was granted for the development, Shannon LNG said it was conscious that the proposed development would be one of the largest construction projects to take place in the north Kerry region.

"We will progress the development in ongoing consultation with the local community in order to minimise inconvenience and disturbance. Once operational, the terminal will be a very quiet and clean facility," it said.

About 60 per cent of Ireland's electricity is generated using natural gas. The proposed terminal will allow Ireland to access multiple sources of gas from around the world, delivering greater security and diversity of energy supply, according to Shannon LNG.

Liquified natural gas is gas converted to liquid by reducing it to below minus 160 degrees. This reduces the volume of the gas and makes it suitable for transportation by sea.

The Irish Times

Top builder may be sued over house plan collapse

LAWYERS for Dublin city council are to consider taking legal action against developer Bernard McNamara after he pulled out of five major public private partnership projects.

At a special discussion on the controversial developments in the centre of the capital last night, the local authority said some €6m had already been spent on the projects -- less than the €27m stated by Mr McNamara.

Last week the developer said he planned to withdraw from the deals worth €900m because of changes to the property market, new rules on the size of apartments and planning delays.

Assistant city manager Ciaran McNamara said last night that the legal team for the council "has been instructed to examine the possible legal remedies" on the five projects.

The sites in which the developer was supposed to be involved were St Michael's estate in Inchicore, O'Devaney Gardens off the North Circular Road (NCR), Convent Lands on Sean McDermott Street, Infirmary Road and Dominick Street.

In cases where an agreement had not been signed, such as St Michael's estate and Dominick Street, there was no legal obligation upon the developer, said a report to the council.

However, where a contract had been signed, there were a set of "remedies" available.

Some 200 protesters turned up outside city hall last night to object to the collapse of the agreement between Mr McNamara and Dublin city council.


Residents of the St Michael's estate in Inchicore said they had been disappointed for the third time after being promised regeneration in the area.

Mr McNamara, from the council, said he had met with the developer yesterday to discuss the issue and that proposals for the future of the projects had been discussed.

The plans from the building group are now to be put in writing and sent to the council, the meeting heard. In turn, the council would reply promptly to the suggestions.

The assistant city manager said he had met with Mr McNamara a number of times over the last few months.

Shane Hickey

Council officials back retention of site with no planning permit

OFFICIALS of Wicklow County Council are to propose a material contravention of the county development plan to accommodate a development which has no planning permission and whose owner is about to face committal proceedings.

On June 9th next councillors are due to consider granting permission for the retention of buildings belonging to Abwood Homes, on the western side of the N11 outside Newtownmountkennedy.

Last year the council won a case in the High Court against Forest Fencing Ltd, trading as Abwood Homes, and its owner, George Smullen, following which Mr Smullen was ordered to clear the site by April this year.

As the site has not been cleared, as directed, the council's solicitors have been asked to prepare attachment and committal proceedings. The council is currently awaiting a court date, according to senior executive officer Sheila O'Leary.

However, on April 18th, in a public notice, the council advised that it would consider granting an application for the retention of two of the three buildings on the site, which was the subject of a High Court ruling.

The retention application, from Mr Smullen, would materially contravene the county development plan, as the location is not zoned for industrial use. The final decision rests with the councillors.

Financial controller for Abwood Breda Hamilton said she was "amazed" when told of the intention to initiate proceedings. "We discussed retention with the council on a reduced scale . . . and at the same time they want to knock it down before they grant retention."

In his judgment last year Mr Justice Peter Charleton described the existing Abwood buildings as a major development for which there was no planning permission. "It is in material contravention of the Co Wicklow Development Plan. It is built entirely to suit the developer and with almost no reference to legal constraint."

Mr Justice Charleton noted that the county development plan aimed to protect green belt areas between expanding towns and to encourage industrial development within towns and villages.

While the Abwood development could possibly be in conformity with the county plan if it had been sited in a heavily-wooded area, it seemed to him, the judge said, that it could not be acceptable in the current site. "It has, as a matter of fact, turned the green belt corridor area between towns into a stretch of industrial and commercial usage."

However, the council's planning department has decided that the development, as now proposed, does not "unduly impact" on the area.

"Having examined the submitted documentation and the site, it was considered that the development, as proposed, did not unduly impact on the amenities of the rural area and adjoining residential amenities," Ms O'Leary said.

"Regard was had to the scale and design of the proposed structures and to the proposed use. Regard was also had to the employment-generating nature of the development and its accessibility to the national road network.

"In the light of previous planning history it is the council's opinion that there are planning grounds to proceed further with this application."

The council said that the planning authority had initiated enforcement proceedings against the Abwood operation as no permission had been granted for it.

"However, in assessing the current application, the previous enforcement proceedings and existence of unauthorised development would not have been a material consideration in assessing the planning application. This planning application had to be assessed on its own merits in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area."

The latest filed accounts for Forest Fencing show that it made a pre-tax profit of €930,662 in 2006, a significant jump on the €222,987 it made in the previous year.

The Irish Times

McNamara to give Dublin City Council social housing proposals

DUBLIN CITY Council is to consider proposals from developer Bernard McNamara on how to proceed with plans for five public-private housing regeneration projects, which collapsed last week.

The proposals will be given to the city council in writing by next Thursday and the council will respond to these proposals by Friday week, assistant city manager Ciarán McNamara told a meeting of Dublin City Council last night.

Mr McNamara met developer Bernard McNamara yesterday and said any proposals will have to be within the terms of public private partnership (PPP).

The projects at Infirmary Road, St Michael's Estate in Inchicore, Dominick Street, Seán McDermott Street and O'Devaney Gardens, all in Dublin were to build about 1,800 new homes between them with a total value of some €900 million.

Under the proposals, the developers were to retain about 800 units and sell them, while the remainder would be used by Dublin City Council for social and affordable housing, replacing some old flat complexes.

Mr McNamara said at the weekend he had not "pulled out" of the projects but that the council had informed him it wanted to take "a different route".

However, last night the assistant city manager said he had met Mr McNamara last Thursday week and both sides agreed that the project was going nowhere and that they would end the process

Dublin City Council yesterday denied it "moved the goalposts" in relation to the scheme.

On RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ciarán McNamara said: "The goalposts didn't change. Remember, with public-private partnerships you are talking about the private sector taking on an element of risk."

Dublin City Council is considering legal remedies over the collapse of plans for the five projects, Ciarán McNamara told the council last night.

But on sites in which contracts have been signed, O'Devaney Gardens, Seán McDermott Street and Infirmary Road, there are legal remedies available which are being examined, the assistant city manager said.

However, where no project agreement has been signed (St Michael's estate and Dominick Street) there is no obligation on the developer to proceed, Ciarán McNamara said.

The assistant city manager also clarified that € 6 million has been spent by the council on the five regeneration projects so far.

While a commencement notice for Infirmary Road to begin was issued by the developer last Friday, the developer is in breach of the project agreement because €13 million due to the city council has not been paid, the assistant city manager said.

The developer also issued a commencement notice for St Michael's Estate, but the assistant city manager said the developer is not in a position to begin work as no project agreement has been signed.

Before the meeting over 200 angry residents of the affected areas protested outside city hall.

The Irish Times

Metro could boost jobs, study claims

THE DEVELOPMENT of a "Metro North Economic Corridor", which could create an additional 37,000 jobs over 20 years and fund half the construction and land acquisition costs of the proposed metro in north Co Dublin, was launched by Fingal County Council yesterday.

The study, commissioned from Indecon Economic Consultants, recommended intensive development along the "metro corridor" from Santry to Swords including the proposed "airport city" region.

The move would facilitate an increase in the number of jobs in the "corridor" to 66,700, and an increase in the population to 128,000 people.

The economic corridor strategy also plays a key role in a proposed new town plan for Swords and the "branding" of the corridor as an international business location, based on high technology manufacturing and service employment.

The envisaged employers include corporate head offices, information technology entities, financial and business services, science and technology projects and environmental products and services.

Additional strengths in the Fingal administrative area identified by the strategy are a new port at Balbriggan, new and upgraded road and rail funded under Transport 21, new industrial parks around the airport and a young, highly educated workforce. The plan notes the average age in Fingal is 32.2 years, and some 16 per cent of its population is under nine years of age.

While the costs of the metro have been criticised, Fingal county manager David O'Connor said the special development charges, currently being levied within one kilometre either side of the proposed line, had the potential to fund up to 50 per cent of the cost of buying land and building the metro itself.

A spokeswoman later explained that the levies would cover design, acquisition of property, diversion of utilities, provision of stops, car parks and other ancillary development. This does not include the 35-year operational and maintenance elements of the proposed PPP contract.

The actual amount of money the levies equate to is difficult to estimate. The Fingal special development levies are €319,725 per hectare for residential, €727,650 per hectare for commercial and €992,250 per hectare for retail development. The potential income from these is dependent on the intensity of the developments on site, notably their height.

Sources yesterday indicated that too many variables were involved to give a definite price, but many suggested Fingal County Council could be hoping to raise as much as €1 billion from its special development levy. The council did not reveal its own estimate.

Commenting on the strategy yesterday, Mr O'Connor said Metro North was the key to the sustainable continued expansion and economic growth of the "airport city" region and to Dublin as a whole.

Report: key recommendations
Fingal County Council should strongly support proposals for a university campus in the economic corridor.

Measures to facilitate the establishment of a hospital within the corridor should be pursued as a priority.

The Swords-Lissenhall, Dublin Airport Eastlands and Metropark sites should each be targeted for future development.

As well as allowing for residential development, potential non-residential uses for the Swords-Lissenhall site should include third-level education, healthcare, high-tech sectors and services.

The Irish Times

Sunday 25 May 2008

Opera Centre's opening night snag

PROPOSALS to expand Limerick city's planned 350m Opera Centre shopping complex are likely to cause controversy because the revised project would involve the demolition of Georgian houses earlier earmarked for restoration by An Bord Pleanala. Regeneration Development's revised blueprint proposes the demolition of all of one side of Ellen Street including three houses which the planning board ruled should be conserved and repaired when it sanctioned the original planning application.

The project involves the restoration of the birthplace of internationally-famous singing star Catherine Hayes who was born at 4 Patrick Street in 1818. The building will be converted into a museum celebrating the life of the diva and will be administered by the Limerick Civic Trust.

The new proposals also involve the demolition of the Lucky Lamp public house, a cut stone building originally intended for retention.

The scale of the project will now be dramatically extended from 28,000sq m to 38,000sq m by including the Granary Building on Michael Street and the Old Town Hall on Rutland Street, both listed buildings, in the revised plans. The new application also proposes doubling the number of car park spaces originally planned to 1,000. Brown Thomas and Marks and Spencer have both been mentioned as possible tenants for the two anchor stores which will now have a combined floor area of 16,000sq m.

"It's important to stress the positive nature of this development, " says Robert Bloomer of agent Savills HOK. "It's exactly what Limerick needs. The retailers we're talking to can't wait to get into decent space in the shopping centre."

"Sorting out the proposed demolition issue will certainly be a bone of contention, " says local councillor, Kathleen Leddin. "People are anxious that the centre gets permission, but at the same time there will be concern at the prospect of losing those buildings. It's a development that Limerick needs so a balance will have to be sought."

"I'm perplexed at the decision of the developers to ignore the previous decision of An Bord Pleanala in regard to the destruction of important heritage houses on Ellen Street, especially when there would appear to be absolutely no necessity for this, " says Liam Irwin, president of the Thomond Historical Society.

"This is an area of architectural conservation not a green field site and needs to be treated in a sensitive and enlightened manner. The former scheme as approved was a reasonable compromise between heritage concerns and the need for economic regeneration of the area and it is regrettable that an attempt is now being made to destroy this consensus."

Sunday Tribune

'Bernard McNamara turned his back on us. It's up to the government now'

YOU might think there is no sound as forlorn as a night wind banging the front door of a deserted house, but there is. It is the political breast-beating that has been slapping the balconies of O'Devaney Gardens all week. Laments that "we sold these people false hope" and "we've failed them" swirl as uselessly as litter around the 50-year-old blocks of flats named in memory of a long-dead bishop.

Were it to be described in an auctioneer's brochure a year ago, when development land this near the Spire was making ?20m an acre, hyperbole would have been unnecessary for 14 acres beside the Phoenix Park and Heuston railway station and Collins Barracks museum and Smithfield and the Four Courts, the centre of the capital city touchable from the red Luas line.

Today the iron railings the builders erected to section off the first phase of construction give the whole place an appearance of dashed dreams, like Miss Havisham in her yellowed wedding dress.

Dishevelled men clutching bottles of spirits come from outside the estate at all hours to shelter in the lee of the four blocks that are boarded up like famine ship trunks and waiting to be demolished in the summer. The 64 tenants moved out temporarily more than three years ago. How time flies in a place where everything else stands still.

"We've the biggest back garden in the world, " Nadine Murphy boasts with a nod towards the Phoenix Park and a rueful smile. Next week, she and her fellow residents will be writing to two of that garden's denizens, the president and the Taoiseach, asking for support in their quest for a decent place to live.

"If they use public transport, they'll pass O'Devaney Gardens on the No 10, " Murphy offers helpfully. "Brian Cowen is going to be moving into a lovely new house in the park. He should look after his neighbours because we'll look after him." On the wall behind her head in the regeneration board's office on the ground floor of the farmost block, an A4 sheet of paper concludes: "People passed over for profit." Some men come and go outside in the hallway, piling machine-cut planks of cheap wood on the floor. "For the banners, " explains the young mother. "We're not going to give up the fight.

We're not bricks and mortar. We have hearts and our hearts have been broken."

It was all supposed to be so different. The band played, the flags and the marquee fluttered and the children got their faces painted on 12 February last year when Bertie Ahern and Bernard McNamara came to celebrate the signing of the regeneration project, eight years after the tenants first saw architects' drawings. The Taoiseach had dropped by in December 2005 to share the wonderful news with his Dublin Central constituents that a developer had been chosen. The McNamara/Castlethorn partnership won for their design and schedule submissions, though their projected gross revenues were less than the secondplaced bidder, Pierce Construction and the Boston-based Corcoran Jennison. The job was to have been finished by the end of next year.

"I met Bernard McNamara the day the agreement was signed, " Nadine recalls. "When I walked back home to my flat I really believed he had the community interest at heart because he said, 'Whatever I can do for the community I will do, ' and the only thing he's done is turn his back on us. It's up to the government now to get this built." The tenants, she says, are seeking meetings with the ministers for finance, the environment and housing.

Poignantly, the only guarantee they have secured from Dublin City Council is that the ?20,000 it provides for the annual Regeneration Festival in August is still available.

"We're running out of time, " says Antoinette Mullen, giving a guided tour of the three-bedroom flat she shares with her husband and their two teenage daughters. There is no space for a kitchen or dining table which means they eat all their meals from plates balanced on their laps. "We wanted to get a mortgage for the affordable housing and we've been holding off, " she explains, "but we're both 35 and we'll soon be at the age that we won't qualify for a mortgage." (Contrary to popular perception, everyone in O'Devaney Gardens who was interviewed for this article is employed and pays tax. ) Biting off more than he can chew Sympathy for Bernard McNamara, the multimillionaire former Fianna Fail county councillor from Lisdoonvarna, is as scarce in O'Devaney Gardens as optimism. Flimsy information about his Ailesbury Road mansion, with its swimming pool and ballroom, and his possession of a helicopter and the Shelbourne Hotel, give an edge to the flat-dwellers' feelings of dejection. They are in no mood to commiserate with the businessman for his troubles. "He's walking away from ?900m worth of work on five projects.

Wouldn't you wonder if he's bitten off more than he can chew? , " says Antoinette Mullen. "I don't think the government should ask him to build the new prison if he's going to leave us in the lurch."

(McNamara's company is building the new prison complex at Thornton Hall in north Dublin. ) Asked if the speculation that he is in financial trouble is true, in light of his withdrawal from the five Private-Public Partnership (PPP) schemes for Dublin City Council, Bernard McNamara's spokesman replied: "The decision in relation to these PPPs was taken because of a combination of two things - the downturn in the marketplace and fundamental changes to the schemes that would have required a new planning application." The spokesman confirmed that the developer "believes the PPPs are too complicated."

Bernard McNamara, who inherited his father's building company, Michael McNamara & Company, is the Greta Garbo of Irish property developers, despite his ubiquity on the Irish landscape.

He owns the Radisson in Galway, the Shelbourne and the Parknasilla Great Southern in Kerry. He sold his 14.5% share of the Superquinn chain last summer but retains his ownership of the Champion Sports retail chain. He is offloading the Ormond Hotel on the Dublin quays and the Grafton Street buildings which house the Richard Alan and Zerep shops, reputedly in order to assemble a portfolio of development properties at the back of the Westbury Hotel, as part of a consortium. He is developing the massive Glass Bottle site in Ringsend and is, according to his spokesman, on schedule and on budget with both this and his ?lm Park development, comprising 400 homes, 28,000sq m of offices, a 169-bed, four-star hotel, a leisure centre, creche and a private hospital. His name may be ubiquitous on the country's building sites, but his face is seldom seen and he does not do media interviews.

When he spoke to Dr Ivor Kenny for the 2001 book Leaders: Conversations with Irish Chief Executives McNamara concluded with this prescient observation: "The social requirements in many areas are changing dramatically because of our changed demographics. It is an interesting time to be involved. Hopefully we can make a contribution."

He spoke about an American company he has partnered in projects, extolling their formula of mixed-income schemes. "These developments are rented to one-third full-market-rent tenants;

one-third social-welfare tenants; and one-third assisted-income tenants. The management is supplemented by a significant social worker back-up and strong tenant involvement. This results in developments which have social housing integrated right through the scheme, but are also sought after by full-market-rent tenants because of their high quality and management. It is a surprise to most people when they learn that Eastern Health Board rent subsidies in Dublin are over IR£80m per annum and that much of it is in poor quality accommodation. There is a sizeable business opportunity here as well as an important social requirement."

The company he was alluding to is Corcoran Jennison, founded by an Irish immigrant from Roscommon, which has two Irish subsidiaries. The company partnered Pierce Construction in bidding for the five PPP schemes in Dublin that ground to a stop last week and came out second in the tender process behind Castlethorn/McNamara in four of them. In the fifth, the O'Devaney Gardens regeneration, it made the top monetary bid but lost out on design and schedule.

Asked if his company would be prepared now to finish the O'Devaney Gardens project if invited by Dublin City Council, Miles Byrne, director of development for Corcoran Jennison in Ireland, said:

"We haven't heard from them but, yes, absolutely, we can do it. We're so sad for the families in O'Devaney Gardens. I toured there on numerous occasions and met hundreds of residents. I had a sense they really had a group you could work with and create a new community. I was walking those hallways at 11 o'clock at night and people were welcoming me into their homes. There are so many people who live in those urine-stained and graffitied apartments and yet they keep those apartments so well."

'Where's plan B?'

In the office of the regeneration board, a small wooden model of the planned development sits on the table, amid leaflets demanding: "O'Devaney Gardens want a future. Where's plan B?" There was going to be a football pitch on the roof of one apartment block and various green oases on the ground. Less well-known is that two creches were planned; one for the private tenants and the other for the social-welfare tenants. The children, who seem to be in the majority among the residents, had been brought in for the consultation about the design of the community centre. The school of thought that private buyers would be deterred by the idea of living in close proximity with public housing residents is matched by the suspicion that rental investors and absent landlords would cause a rapid deterioration in quality.

"Mr McNamara has left us high and dry, " believes Ruth Murphy, a lone mother of four young children.

"The council has told us it can't sue for breach of contract because it would end up stalled in the courts for years and nothing would be happening here in the meantime. There's already an awful lot of money spent on consultations, going out to tender, legal work, architects. The council made sure that we as tenants had independent legal advice the whole way along. I think a quarter of a million euro was spent on Portakabins alone and there's temporary accommodation in three different sites for the people who've moved out."

But, as the rebuilding of O'Devaney Gardens turns into a standoff between the council and the developers, the decline that set in over a decade ago goes on inexorably. In July, the four earmarked blocks will be demolished. Buried among that rubble will be the dust of the community's playschool.

Sunday Tribune

Urban dreams are turned to rubble

This week, developer Bernard McNamara decided to walk away from five public-private housing projects in Dublin. Why was the city council unable to prevent a disaster for inner-city Dublin?

THIS HAS BEEN the week when the slump in the construction industry was thrown into the sharpest relief yet. As the State's biggest builder walked away from €1 billion worth of business, even the most optimistic talker-uppers in the industry were forced into silence.

It might have been just coincidence that Fianna Fáil decided at the same time to fold its tent at the Galway Races, but the demise of its traditional thank-you bash for loyal and supportive developers was yet another sign that the game was up in the property sector.

Economic fortunes rise and fall, but, when the history books are eventually written, the question that will preoccupy academics is likely to be how we managed to squander so many of the fruits of the longest boom in the State's history.

We know already about the ailing health service and our bulging classrooms. To the list, we must now add the failure of the Celtic Tiger to improve housing conditions for our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Almost 20 years of prosperity and we are still left with crumbling flat complexes and their accompanying social problems in many parts of Dublin.

The withdrawal of developer Bernard McNamara from five public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the capital is a disaster for inner-city Dublin, and not just for the estates that were to be regenerated. The rebuilding of St Michael's Estate in Inchicore, for example, involved not only the provision of private and public housing, but also a library, a civic centre, a health clinic and a shopping centre.

"It wasn't just about rebuilding a few flats, it was about social regeneration," says Peter Ward, chairman of the O'Devaney Gardens Regeneration Board. Because the surrounding communities were so closely involved in drawing up the plans, and both private and public housing was envisaged, the regeneration schemes held out the promise of an end to social segregation and the sink estates that had grown up over time in the city's social black spots.

The writing has been on the wall for the schemes since last year, when McNamara first started dragging his heels.

"We all knew from last summer that he was starting to get cold feet," says Ward.

Yet Dublin City Council seemed to be the last to know. Almost a fortnight ago, when The Irish Times, having heard rumours about the projects' demise, first contacted the council's press office, the reply was that it was "business as usual" between the council and the developer. Even as all involved in the projects insisted they were doomed, the council and McNamara continued to claim for five days that they were still in negotiations. The plug was finally pulled this week.

If the council was using this time to come up with a plan B, its existence wasn't evident when the axe fell. The council could sue the developer, as contracts were signed for at least two of the schemes, but sources say it has no stomach to start such a fight. Litigation could block development on the sites for years and, it is thought, the council's decision to set increased minimum sizes for apartments, agreed after the PPPs were signed, could give McNamara wriggle room in the courts.

Going to the underbidders is another option, but not one that inspires much hope. Developers everywhere are strapped for cash, and the cost of borrowing has rocketed. Few will take on these projects without being allowed to build significantly more private housing, which would be resisted by local interests.

As Ward points out, the communities involved have already made significant compromises in agreeing to the PPP route. In O'Devaney Gardens, for example, this involved accepting an eight-storey block of private apartments beside the social housing.

Perhaps the Government can be persuaded to cough up more capital funding for social housing, but this isn't a solution either. At St Michael's, for example, there is already planning permission to build social housing for the existing residents on four of the 14 acres. But such a plan threatens to repeat the mistakes of the past by creating ghettoes bereft of social supports and unintegrated with the local community.

THE COLLAPSE OF the schemes highlights the continuing failure of the Government to tackle the housing crisis. There are currently 44,000 households on housing waiting lists, and some have been there for up to a decade. The old, discredited model of segregated social housing has not been replaced by a working alternative.

Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 was supposed to improve matters by requiring developers to provide 20 per cent social and affordable housing as part of their schemes. However, this stipulation was stiffly resisted by developers, the Act was watered down, and for years the scheme has failed to provide social housing to any meaningful extent.

Only in the past year has Part V begun to provide the promised housing units, which, ironically, are now coming on stream in a glut, according to David Burke of Focus Ireland. He says the money available for social housing is being diverted to pay for Part V housing provided by developers, partly because local authorities are afraid of being sued if they don't pay up promptly. Yet the housing provided under Part V is more likely to be affordable units, which enjoy greater public acceptance, than it is to be social housing.

"Social housing has not been able to perform in the housing market of the Celtic Tiger," he says. "It simply can't compete with the likes of Bernard McNamara, Sean Dunne, etc."

PPPs were vaunted as the mechanism for delivering the houses and apartments needed. The idea is simple: the council gives the developer a valuable plot of inner-city land, the developer builds an agreed number of social and affordable housing units and community facilities and is then free to develop the rest of the site for private accommodation at a profit.

But here again, as Burke points out, it was an "unequal match" in negotiations between local authority officials, earning €40,000 a year, and the developers with their battalions of advisers. The result, despite years of consultation within communities and a bidding process, was a series of deals that seem to be insufficiently binding.

"It's clear the negotiations dragged on for years. If you don't nail down something comprehensively and you leave negotiations ill-defined, this is the kind of thing that is bound to happen," says Burke.

QUESTIONS HAVE ALSO been asked about how McNamara managed to secure so many contracts, effectively leaving the council with far too many eggs in one basket. The local regeneration boards don't know what's happening because, once McNamara was chosen, they withdrew from the process and left the fine print to the council. Board members haven't even seen the contracts and don't know why the developer has been able to walk away so easily.

Having handed over the construction of new units to the private sector, local authorities are also busily offloading their existing stock. Some 330,000 housing units have been provided by the State since its foundation; of these, two-thirds have been sold off. As many an owner of a bijou two-up-two-down house in Dublin will know, these dwellings were in many cases sold off for a pittance to tenants, who then sold them on at greatly increased prices.

Now, Dublin City Council wants to sell off individual flats in its complexes and, surprise surprise, enterprising tenants are lining up for a bargain. Furious efforts are being made to overcome the quite obvious legal and practical difficulties involved in the part-sale of flat complexes, and up to 16,000 apartments in the city could be sold to their owners within a few years.

But, as Burke explains, this is creating a process known as "residualisation". "The best-quality units will be sold to the best-quality tenants. That leaves the worst accommodation for the most needy people." And all the accompanying social problems too.

Bernard McNamara has pulled out of his deals with the council because Dublin already has thousands of unsold apartments, and prices are plummeting. The credit crunch is hiking up the cost of bank loans, of which he already has plenty.

Much of the building boom from which McNamara and other developers benefited was driven by generous tax breaks from government. In some counties, up to 30 per cent of housing units lie empty. In Dublin, council planners helped to drive the developers' profits up further by raising the roof on the city and permitting the construction of multi-storey blocks.

The result is a glut of housing which isn't needed, isn't occupied and is in the wrong places, and a dearth of housing which is urgently needed and which is suitable for families to live in. In Dublin alone, 2,000 households are trying to come out of homelessness each year, yet places can be found for just 300 of them.

In a state of half-demolition, the five PPP schemes "look like Beirut", in the words of one councillor. Such dereliction is a magnet for anti-social activity - fights in the alleyways, drug-dealing on the stairwells, drinking parties by the braziers.

So what now, now that the kitty is empty and the developers have bolted? For now, no one really knows, but as Peter Ward insists of the regeneration of O'Devaney Gardens: "No matter how it's done, it has to happen."

Irish Times