Thursday 17 July 2008

Dunne faces 'Battle for Ballsbridge'

It has been dubbed the Battle for Ballsbridge. September has been pencilled in for the start of hearings into a string of ambitious building projects in the leafy city suburb.

On one side, developer Sean Dunne and his army of supporters including theatre impresario Michael Colgan and broadcaster Bill O'Herlihy. On the other, businessman Dermot Desmond and a host of residents associations from the country's most exclusive postal district: Dublin 4.

Yesterday, An Bord Pleanala said a public hearing into Mr Dunne's plans to build a 37-storey skyscraper on the site of Jury's and the Berkeley Court Hotel would likely open in early September.

Over 200 presentations are expected in what could be the longest-ever public hearing conducted by the board.

The project has split the community -- with 90 appeals supporting the €1bn grand plan, and 37 opposed. Another 84 parties have made submissions, and have the right to speak at the planning hearing.

Dublin City Council granted planning permission for a large part of the project on the seven-acre Jurys/Berkeley Court site, which Mr Dunne bought for €380m in 2005.

A hotel, shopping centre, 294 apartments, an embassy building, cultural centre, creche and an 18-storey block were all approved, but the jewel in the crown -- a 37-storey tower -- was refused in a split decision.

Mr Dunne, who was not present yesterday, previously said development would not begin until the two omitted buildings were granted permission, either through An Bord Pleanala or Dublin City Council in a later planning application.

Planning consultant Kieran Kennedy, on behalf Mr Dunne's company Mountbrook Homes, offered the Berkeley Court as a venue for the hearing, to loud laughter from the assembled objectors. Up to 25 witnesses will appear on Mr Dunne's behalf over five days. Representatives of businessman Dermot Desmond said he would call three witnesses, which would take "at least" half a day.

Mr Desmond, in a submission to Dublin City Council, said grouping embassies together into one tall building would make them ''a sitting duck for a potential terrorist attack''.

Barrister Colm MacEochaidh, representing 19 residents associations, asked that expert statements be submitted in advance as, while there were parties with "bottomless pits of money who can sit here for months", many objectors had to take time off work to attend. If the number of statements became "oppressive", he would seek an adjournment, he indicated.

An Bord Pleanala inspector Tom Rabbitte said the hearing was likely to take place in early September in Ballsbridge.


Opening submissions would take eight days, with half a day set aside for closing submissions. It was not possible to estimate how long cross-examination of witnesses would take, given the number of parties.

"Because of the large numbers, I'm going to have to be more ruthless. . . " he said. "I don't want the same questions repeated over and over again."

An official date and venue for the hearing will be published in two weeks.

Irish Independent

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