Monday 29 September 2008

Expert's high-rise evidence was biased, says barrister

BARRISTER Colm Mac Eochaidh, representing 21 appellants opposing Seán Dunne’s high-rise plans for Ballsbridge, has threatened An Bord Pleanála with legal action if it refuses his request to disregard the evidence of one of Mr Dunne’s planning experts.

Marion Chalmers last week gave evidence to the hearing on the development on the economic and social benefits of the €1.5 billion scheme, which would generate 5,000 permanent jobs and €400 million every year, she said.

Ms Chalmers had also been engaged by Mr Dunne to provide expert information on the economic and social benefits of the development to Dublin City Council, as part of Mr Dunne’s planning application.

The council subsequently approved the bulk of the plans for the seven-acre site of the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels, but refused the 28,000sq m of offices and the 37-storey tower.

Following the decision, Ms Chalmers appealed to An Bord Pleanála in favour of the development, in her capacity as managing director of estate agency DTZ.

Mr Mac Eochaidh said there was a clear conflict of interest in Ms Chalmers’s actions. She had presented herself as an expert witness to the board, while also being an appellant to the hearing. It has also been her job to give an independent analysis of the economic and social aspects of the scheme to the council.

Under planning rules this should have been done “coldly” and without “favour or disfavour”, Mr Mac Eochaidh said.

“That is the opposite of what has happened here. If the board decides to have regard to Ms Chalmers’s evidence it will have substantial legal consequences,” he said.

The hearing’s inspector, Tom Rabbette told Mr Mac Eochaidh that he would consider the matter.

Ms Chalmers had told the hearing yesterday that Dublin needed Mr Dunne’s development, including the office blocks, because the city centre had little remaining office space and there would be no more development land in the docklands within six years.

“There is an urgent need in terms of supply and demand for office space,” she told the hearing. “The docklands will be ‘built out’ by 2014. We have got to be supplying office capacity in the city and we need to plan for that now.”

If the development did not go ahead 1,373 potential jobs would be lost every year, she said. John Gallagher SC, representing the city council, said offices could be provided elsewhere with no loss of jobs. “The losses that you suggest would not occur in the city.”

The Irish Times

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