THE development company which was given the contract four years ago to build an apartment and commercial tower block in Dun Laoghaire Harbour never submitted an application for planning permission, it has emerged.
The controversial project began to unravel three years ago when the selected developer, Urban Capital, failed to meet a first deadline for a planning application based on plans drawn up by Dublin architects, Heneghan Peng. From the outset there was local opposition to the idea of building apartments up to 10 storeys high in the centre of the 19th-century harbour beside the single storey yacht clubs and other low-rise Victorian buildings on the sea front.
Two weeks ago, Sisk Builders, one of the major partners in the firm, Urban Capital, announced it was pulling out of the project citing a "combination of the uncertain economic market conditions and the planning risks associated with a project of that nature".
Days later, the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company chief executive, Michael Hanahoe, resigned, although he said his decision was not linked to the collapse of the apartment project whose initial design included 229 apartments, a 127-bed hotel and retail outlets.
Sources close to the project said there had been disagreement about the project from an early stage between the Harbour Company, local planners and the developers.
It was also pointed out that the development of high-rise buildings on the sea front has also become a major political hot potato in Dun Laoghaire.
Campaigner Richard Boyd Barrett came within a whisker of being elected to the Dail in last year's general election with over 5,300 first preference votes largely due to his "Save Our Seafront" campaign against the proposal to build another massive apartment complex on the site of the old Dun Laoghaire Baths.
In the previous general election, he ran as a Socialist Workers' Party candidate and polled less than 800 votes.
Over 14,000 people in the town signed a petition against the proposed apartment complex on the Baths and 4,000 took part in the biggest ever public protest in Dun Laoghaire.
With local government elections due next year, sources close to the Government-owned Harbour Company said that it appears no one is prepared to risk moving on yet another unpopular high-rise development in the Harbour.
Mr Boyd Barrett said he welcomed the news that Sisk had pulled out of the project which he said would have made a major section of the harbour the "exclusive property of the super-wealthy and utterly ruined its unique character". He added: "The decision to abandon this plan is a major victory for people power and the Save Our Seafront campaign to prevent the creeping privatisation of our harbour and public seafront."
He said Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company should now engage with the public and the Save Our Seafront group to come up with what he described as an "acceptable plan" for the pier. "It is an ideal site to locate sea-related and other amenities that will enhance public access to the harbour."
Despite the fact that Dun Laoghaire Harbour has the second biggest concentration of yachts and leisure craft in either Ireland or Britain, after the Solent and Hamble, there is a severe lack of facilities for yachting.
Local yachtsman, Des Kelliher, whose family has been sailing out of Dun Laoghaire for generations, said: "From a service point of view Dun Laoghaire is disastrous. There is still no boat yard. Owners have to go North and even over to Wales for work.
"If there was a boat yard it would provide an extraordinary amount of work. It is one of the main reasons Dun Laoghaire can't attract major sailing events. We can't have anything on the scale of Cork Week because the facilities aren't there. On any Saturday there are a 1,000 people out in the Bay in anything from canoes to windsurfers to expensive yachts. It is one of the biggest participant sporting centres in Ireland and yet there are no support services available."
Although it now appears the high rise Carlisle Pier and Baths projects are finished, consideration is taking place of further major commercial development of the Harbour.
Last month, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council put forward plans for the infill of around 100 acres of Scotsman's Bay. The first "module" of the plan involves the building of a 500-space car park on an area of about five acres of infill beside the East Pier.
It is understood the building of a major marina with a hotel and apartment complex is one of the ideas being mooted in the Harbour Company should Stena Line, which runs its HSS ferry service from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, pull out of the town when its current contract runs out in 2010.
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