Sunday 29 June 2008

All-out war as Docks deals go to court

THREE of the biggest beasts in Ireland's property industry have been drawn into an all-out war over ambitious plans by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) to create a 'mini Manhattan' in the heart of the IFSC.

Separate claims by high-flying property magnates Johnny Ronan and Sean Dunne of a secret deal given to publicity-shy developer Liam Carroll have now landed the DDDA in the High Court.

The separate cases, which are being taken by Ronan's Spencer Dock Developments and Dunne's Mountbrook Homes respectively, centre on the Authority's agreement last year allowing Carroll to ignore the 2002 North Lotts Planning Scheme, and to pursue a new plan with the DDDA.

That plan allows Carroll to build more office blocks on the site owned by his company, North Quay Investments, changes the location of a garden area, and removes the requirement for him to build a new east-west road across the site.

In return for these concessions, Carroll agreed to cede a strip of land to the DDDA, which it plans to excavate for the construction of a new canal within the IFSC.

The Authority has further plans to obtain two additional strips of land owned by another of Johnny Ronan's companies, Real Estate Opportunities (REO), on either side of Carroll's site for the canal project through the execution of a compulsory purchase order.

Should it proceed, the construction of the new canal would see Carroll's site bounded on all sides by water, transforming it into what industry sources are describing as a 'mini Manhattan'.

Carroll is understood to be in the process of securing AIB and solicitors O'Donnell Sweeney Eversheds as tenants for the site.

Both Ronan and Dunne are strongly opposed to the proposals, with lawyers for both arguing that the confidential agreement reached between the DDDA and Liam Carroll on May 31 last year has the potential to cause significant damage to their development interests in the IFSC.

Sean Dunne, for his part, believes details of the confidential agreement should have been disclosed to him as a landowner adjoining Liam Carroll's North Lotts site.

The Mountbrook Homes supremo claims the permission given to Carroll to build to a greater density than the 2002 development plan permitted will lead to a situation where his own planned apartments will look out on to office blocks rather than a garden area, while access to his site will be restricted.

Ronan's Spencer Dock Developments, meanwhile, are arguing that they have been put at a distinct competitive disadvantage in their dealings with the DDDA as a result of its decision to reach a confidential agreement with Liam Carroll.

In an affidavit submitted by Spencer Dock Developments to the High Court, the company describes the Authority's move as "astonishing", adding that it "makes a mockery" of the process of consultation with interested developers.

Turning to the specific issue of the planning permission given to Liam Carroll on the North Lotts site, the affidavit sworn by director John Bruder claims Carroll was effectively given certainty, which allowed him to gain competitive advantage over other developers in terms of negotiating with prospective tenants in the IFSC.

The affidavit further alleges in angry terms: "It is now abundantly clear that the Applicant (Spencer Dock Developments) and all those working on its behalf were at all times wasting their time: the DDDA had a predetermined idea of how the lands should be developed and in the face of all our representations, the DDDA never budged in a material way.

"Now that I know about the agreement between NQIL and the DDDA, I understand why the DDDA did not budge," it continues.

If there is much frustration on the part of Johnny Ronan and his fellow directors, Sean Dunne would appear to be equally frustrated by events.

The Sunday Independent understands the Mountbrook Homes chief has, in tandem with his High Court case against the DDDA, already requested further information from the Authority about any arrangements it may be planning to enter into with the media-averse developer.

Eyebrows were already raised in property circles when Carroll let a planning permission he had been given by Dublin City Council in 2002 for a site next to the DDDA's planned U2 Tower on Sir John Rogerson's Quay lapse.

There was speculation that Carroll decided not to proceed with the site to mollify the DDDA, who sources believe would have been unhappy to see the U2 Tower having to compete with a parallel development.

Asked by the Sunday Independent if the Authority had reached any agreement with Mr Carroll that he would not proceed with developing the Sir John Rogerson's Quay site, a spokesman for the DDDA gave a categoric denial.

The spokesman said: "The Authority wishes to categorically state that no verbal or written agreement was ever sought or given in relation to Liam Carroll losing his planning permission on Sir John Rogerson's Quay.

"This planning permission was not renewed by Dublin City Council. There is, therefore, absolutely no linkage between this site and the North Lotts area, or any other area, in which Liam Carroll is developing," he said.

Dunne's case against the DDDA is the latest episode in his long-running struggle against Carroll.

Back in 2005, the two crossed paths as Dunne fought to gain control of the Jury's Doyle Hotel (JDH) Group at the height of the speculative grab for land in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin 4.

With tensions running high, Carroll emerged as the potential kingmaker at a crucial juncture in the struggle for JDH, with an eight per cent shareholding under his belt.

At one point, it is understood he promised to sell those shares to Dunne, before then selling them to the Doyle family instead.

Sunday Independent

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