Monday 12 January 2009

Councillors face footing bill in rezoning case

A GROUP of politicians will have to pay for their local authority’s costly legal defence because they voted for an “unreasonable” planning decision currently before the High Court.

Thirteen members of South Dublin County Council were told by county management to back down and revoke a controversial rezoning or future case costs will be theirs.

And, in an unprecedented move, management also informed the councillors they will be billed for the costs already accrued.

This is because the councillors defied legal advice offered by the local authority when they granted a lucrative rezoning concession to developer Jim Mansfield.

Today the council is expected to drop its opposition to the court case. Afterwards it will battle over the bill.

Citing section 112 of the 2001 local government act, management believes the local authority does not have to take financial responsibility for a decision it opposed.

Last May the group ignored pleas by county manager Joe Horan and voted to rezone a boutique golf village in Citywest, making it a local shopping centre.

Six weeks later the owner of the nearby district shopping centre on Fortunestown Lane, Place Investments, launched a High Court challenge. It said a similar development on the same road would affect its potential.

In a letter provided to the May council meeting, senior counsel John Traynor warned that Place Investments had a strong case.

“I believe that... it would be highly desirable for elected members to be advised that, without strong compelling reasons... a decision to adopt the variation would be at extreme risk of being quashed,” he said.

Seven councillors voted against the plan, including Tony McDermott of the Green Party, Socialist Mick Murphy and five members of the Labour Party bloc.

Since December 13 affected councillors have been involved in almost daily briefings. In their defence the elected members said their decision to rezone was based on the need to generate employment. They will attempt to avoid responsibility for the bill because they did not have appropriate legal advice during the council meeting.

Neither the council or the councillors are able to comment until the case is resolved.

Irish Examiner

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