Sunday 9 November 2008

DDDA errors grow

U2 Tower saga is the latest in a series of errors by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

The decision by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to suspend talks on the U2 Tower is merely the latest in a litany of travails faced by the authority. This week it will be appearing in the commercial court as the Spencer Dock Developments company, owned by Treasury Holdings, CIE and Harry Crosbie, take action against it for giving Liam Carroll planning permission to develop the Brooks Thomas site.

It is essentially the same case previously taken by Seán Dunne, in which Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan found the authority had acted ultra vires. Dunne has since applied to have the works undertaken by Carroll demolished, which will leave the DDDA facing a huge compensation bill as well as massive legal costs. The authority may try to include higher densities and taller buildings in the area as part of its master plan but sources close to Dunne are confident that that won't stand up in court either.

That is but the latest in a series of questionable decisions by the DDDA. In 2004, McCann FitzGerald bought the 0.5-acre Riverside One site for €12.5m from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority in an off-market deal. Just months later it sold it planned new headquarters, which it has since occupied, to Quinlan Private, among others, in a sale and leaseback deal, netting a reported €30m profit. A similar, albeit less profitable, deal was also concluded by Dillon Eustace in the same area.

CHQ, envisioned as a flagship shopping centre for wealthier workers in the IFSC, ended up costing €50m, €10m of which was spent on consultants, according to DDDA chief executive Paul Maloney. The sum spent on consultants raised eyebrows, given it amounted to 20% of the budget cost. Originally targeting the likes of Harvey Nichols, Gucci and Prada, the centre had to reduce expectations and never attracted the luxury international retailers it hoped for.

The DDDA also acquired the Jones Oil site at Sheriff Street, using a compulsory purchase order, for a park. "The site will be developed with a view to accommodating family living and could contain a pocket park and other community facilities," the DDDA's master plan monitoring report said in 2006. A spokeswoman for the DDDA said it "can't release the land cost for this project. The site will be developed in accordance with the planning scheme for the North Lotts area. The amended planning scheme will be put out to public consultation next year and then submitted to the minister for approval".

More recently, the DDDA contacted developers looking to be involved in a consortium bidding to develop the South Wharf site. The DDDA teamed up eventually with Bernard McNamara and Derek Quinlan to form Becbay and bid an eye-watering €412m for the site, which is now worth only about €300m, according to senior industry sources.

The DDDA had been due to expire in 2012 but, by becoming involved in South Wharf, that is now unlikely to happen. Instead, it will play a role in the future development of the land, having already invested €36m in the site, €9m of which is being spent on remediation of the site after asbestos was found there. Maloney has already conceded that the economic downturn has serious implications for the future development of the site.

Other mistakes were less visible. The Antony Gormley sculpture was a worthy idea but locals reacted badly to the fact that, in their view, it looked as if it was going to urinate on them, while the Liffey Island idea as a whole was puzzling. It involved developers ceding land in the docklands to be dug out while residential towers would be built on stilts within the Liffey itself.

The U2 Tower, though, will be the first and last thought for many when it comes to the DDDA. Losing the winning entrant's name, redesigns, aborted negotiations with developers, differing heights, not revealing in their press release that U2 was part of one of the consortia… the controversy surrounding the building will simply not go away.

Sunday Tribune

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