Wednesday 23 July 2008

Mansfield's convention facility to go ahead after long battle

AN BORD Pleanála's decision to give the go-ahead to developer Jim Mansfield's convention centre at Citywest in Dublin signals the end of a long-running saga that has seen the building batted around the various elements of the planning system for close to half a decade.

The planning appeals board yesterday overturned the ruling of one of its own inspectors and decreed that the centre can go ahead.

Its decision is based on the facts that the facility fits in with specific zoning objectives laid down in the South County Dublin Development Plan, and that the Luas light rail line will be extended out to Saggart in Co Dublin, where Citywest is located, from its current terminal in Tallaght.

Four years ago, South Dublin County Council granted Mr Mansfield's company, HSS Ltd, permission to build the centre.

The company points out that there were no objections after five weeks, the time allowed for anyone opposed to such decisions to come forward.

After that five-week period elapses, there was a further four weeks allowed to facilitate any objections from adjoining landowners and from the developer himself, if he had a problem with any of the conditions laid down by the local authority.

Mr Mansfield was not going to object to the conditions and as the owner of most of the Citywest complex, he was also the adjoining landowner.

But heritage body, An Taisce, found out about the county council's decision after the initial five-week period was over. It went to An Bord Pleanála, which ruled that the council should have informed it.

This also opened the door to Harry Crosbie, owner of the Point Depot in Dublin's docklands, and a potential competitor for conference business, to object. In 2004, their objections succeeded, and the centre, which HSS had started building, was halted.

Mr Mansfield and his company began a protracted battle to get the centre built. In April 2007, he scaled it back, cutting capacity from 6,000 people to just over 4,100. Last November, the council again granted it permission.

An Taisce lodged an appeal in January, pointing out that the site was not singled out as suitable for a conference centre in either of two national development plans or the National Spatial Strategy.

The heritage body also had concerns about the amount of traffic it could create, and argued that the Luas extension was not enough to cope with this. However, An Bord Pleanála did not agree and has now given it the go-ahead.

Mr Mansfield was happy with the decision yesterday. His business, the Mansfield Group, which includes the hotel, conference centre and golf courses, welcomed the news. Its chief executive, Bernard O'Byrne, said that its potential value to the economy is €50 million a year.

"Independent research indicates that each overseas convention delegate contributes €1,500 to the Irish economy," he said.

Mr Mansfield was eager to make it clear that the planning row which has dogged the centre was not of his making. "Citywest and the local economy has paid a very high price - in the region of €200 million - for someone else's mistake," he argued.

He pledged to move ahead with the project as quickly as possible, although there could be an outside possibility that one of the objectors will seek to have the courts review the An Bord Pleanála ruling.

The group gave no indication of when it intends opening the centre for business, but it's likely that Mr Mansfield will be keen to do so before the proposed National Conference Centre in Spencer Dock in Dublin city, which is due to be completed in 2010.

The Irish Times

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