Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ikea lobbied to be allowed open early

DUBLIN’S IKEA store was allowed to open early after extensive lobbying of politicians by the company and the local council, files released under Freedom of Information legislation reveal.

It was only after Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Minister of State Pat Carey were lobbied that the opposition of the National Roads Authority (NRA) to the early opening was overcome.

The NRA, which originally opposed the development because of the possible effects on traffic on the nearby M50, then withdrew its objection to the store opening before all the motorway works were completed.

Under the terms of the planning permission granted to Ikea in 2007, major upgrading works on the M50 were required to be completed before the shop could open. However, Ikea was ready to open long before these works were scheduled to be completed, prompting a flurry of lobbying on the issue.

Ikea wrote to Minister for Enterprise and Employment Mary Coughlan in September 2008 demanding that the NRA provide guaranteed completion dates for the works on the M50. It also complained of a lack of co-operation by the roads authority in revising or interpreting the conditions of its planning permission.

NRA chief executive Fred Barry firmly rebuffed the company’s claims in a response to the Minister the following month. In the letter, he accused Ikea of “trying to create an environment in which they will be allowed open before preconditions set out by An Bord Pleanála are fulfilled . . . Hence their attempts to persuade the media that the NRA is behind schedule, claims about lack of co-operation with regard to planning conditions, etc.”

Mr Barry refused to give Ikea the guaranteed completion date it sought, pointing out that the contractor carrying out the work had no obligation to meet such a date.

On December 1st, 2008, David O’Connor, Fingal county manager, told Mr Lenihan in a letter that the council wanted an opening in summer 2009 in preference to a later date.

He recommended that the roads contract be “managed” by improving capacity at the Ballymun interchange rather than waiting for the entire section of the M50 from Finglas to the M1 junction to be upgraded.

He also recommended against seeking a new planning permission to lift the planning condition because this would be liable to challenge and, therefore, delay.

He warned that a report by Ikea management to its parent board in Sweden had not “reflected well on their Irish experience”.

Mr O’Connor also briefed Minister of State Pat Carey in October 2008, warning that press attention would be drawn to the store if it lay completed but unopened as a result of planning conditions.

He claimed the NRA, in concentrating on the delivery of new motorway infrastructure, had lost sight of the fact that this investment was made to serve the economy of the nation.

The NRA position changed following this correspondence. On December 16th, 2008, Mr Barry wrote to Ikea manager Garry Deakin to say he appreciated that the company needed a specific opening date to allow for staff recruitment.

“In the circumstances, we commit that the NRA will not raise any objection to the Planning Authority (or elsewhere) to Ikea’s opening at any time after June 1st, 2009, even if all of the upgrade works at or around the Junction 4 are not complete.”

Ikea eventually opened in July this year. It claimed the delays cost the company €70 million in lost revenue.

All works on the M50 and Ballymun interchange will be completed next spring, according to the NRA.

Irish Times

No comments: