Tuesday 18 November 2008

Docklands plans hit by builders' €1bn turf war

THE Attorney General has been called in to review the law which allows the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to "fast-track" planning permissions, in the wake of a €1bn turf war between developers Sean Dunne and Liam Carroll.

Last month, the High Court quashed a special exemption certificate granted by the authority to developer Liam Carroll -- for a €200m office block development on the former Brooks Thomas site at North Wall Quay.

The quashing of the 'Section 25' certificate prompted rival builder Sean Dunne to seek a High Court injunction to force Mr Carroll, who has already spent €83m on the development, to tear down the structure.

Dunne himself is facing major objections, including one by Dermot Desmond, to his proposed development of a 37-storey tower in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

The Irish Independent has learned that Environment Minister John Gormley asked Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC to review aspects of the 11-year-old law which established the DDDA, amid concerns that the judgment could affect other sites.

The Docklands Authority, which is not appealing the High Court ruling, issues some 50 special exemption certificates each year and told the Irish Independent that the judgment won't affect other developments.

But Treasury Holdings is also challenging a Section 25 certificate, raising concerns about the legal validity of scores of developments.

These include developments already given the go-ahead by the DDDA, and any future developments under its fast-track procedure.


The Carroll-Dunne row, dubbed the 'Battle of North Lotts', has exposed major deficiencies in the law underpinning the DDDA. The fast-track procedure allows the DDDA to grant planning permission without recourse to standard planning procedures, and members of the public cannot object to their use.

The 1997 Act does not outline what procedures should be adopted for granting special exemption certificates, nor does it make any provision for what occurs to a development if it is declared invalid. The DDDA also lacks powers to grant retention permission, and has no powers to enforce compliance with exempted development certificates.

Liam Carroll has now applied for retention permission to Dublin City Council, who previously rejected his plans for the development.

It is understood that if his retention application is rejected by the council, Mr Carroll may seek to rely on a two-year old Supreme Court ruling handed down in the wake of the statutory rape crisis to hold onto his office block.

Last month, lawyers acting for Mr Carroll asked the High Court to clarify whether DDDA's consent to the now unauthorised development is void, or else "voidable" and therefore capable of being deemed lawful despite the fact that the 'Section 25' certificate was invalidated by the High Court.

The legal argument is similar to that deployed by the Supreme Court which ruled that a 41-year old child rapist, who was released from prison because the law under which he had been convicted was struck down, could still be jailed because the State acted in good faith when it relied on the impugned statute.

Irish Independent


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