Wednesday 31 March 2010

Study highlights historic mining activities in Ireland

The results of a major multi-agency study into old mine sites in Ireland was released last week at a workshop hosted by The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The study - Historic Mine Sites Inventory and Risk Classification - Volume 1 Geochemical Characteristics and Environmental Matters - gathers together all the available information on historic mine sites in Ireland and significant new information derived from site investigations. It identifies the issues that need to be addressed in the future rehabilitation of mines in Ireland.

Over 100 sites in 32 mining districts were assessed in the course of the investigation - ranging in size from the largest historic mine sites in Ireland, where mining took place in recent decades, to smaller sites where there has been little or no mining activity for many decades. The EPA, the GSI and the Exploration and Mining Division of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR), worked together on this study.

The objectives of this work were -

1. to identify any significant risks to the environment and human and animal health at these historic mine sites so that these risks can be managed and the sites made safe - and
2. to plan ahead for the forthcoming EU Directive on the Management of Wastes from the Extractive Industries. This Directive will, among other things, require EU Member States to prepare an inventory of closed waste facilities within their jurisdictions by 1 May 2012.

The project includes -

* An inventory of historic mine sites in Ireland, compiled in digital and GIS format;
* A compilation of all relevant information on each site in GIS format;
* Site investigation and characterisation reports for each of the sites - and
* A methodology for risk-ranking these sites to establish the level of risk to the environment and to human and animal health associated with them.

Commenting on the publication of the report and associated products, Dara Lynott, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said - “This work will leave Ireland well placed to comply with the future requirements of the EU Directive. These assessments will shape our actions for the remediation of these sites for future generations.”

The study concluded that, of the 32 mining districts assessed, 22 districts will not require any interventions, 7 districts will require further monitoring and 3 districts (Tynagh, Silvermines and Avoca) will require additional site-specific risk assessment by the landowners.

Mr Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Mr Conor Lenihan, Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation welcomed the report and its findings, as it provides a scientific basis for classifying the various mine sites and identifies the main issues and mine sites of concern.


Ireland is obliged under Article 20 of Directive 2006/21/EC on the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries to prepare an inventory of closed/abandoned waste facilities, which cause serious negative environmental impacts or have the potential of becoming in the medium or short term a serious threat to human health or the environment, and to periodically update it.

The inventory is to be made available to the public and is to be completed by 1 May 2012. This Historic Mines Sites Inventory and Risk Classification deals only with those minerals covered by the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. A similar study on closed stone, sand and gravel quarries will have to be compiled before 1 May 2012.

Many terms have been used to refer to old mines - including abandoned, derelict or orphaned. There is no widely accepted single definition for classifying old mines that are dormant, may or may not have an identifiable owner and have not been reclaimed. A working definition is any inactive mine site not in the process of rehabilitation or under active management.

Some common characteristics of historic mine sites are -

* ownership of the site is often difficult to establish
* that regular maintenance of the site has not been undertaken - and
* mining ceased without proper rehabilitation.

In this report, the term 'historic mine site' is used to refer to old mine sites which are not regulated by a current permit under minerals development legislation and consists of the mine workings and infrastructure related to a mine, including - but not limited to - tailings facilities, waste rock dumps, buildings and concentrator facilities.

A comprehensive remediation project is currently underway at the Silvermines site and is being overseen by DCENR, while a full assessment of the Avoca site, where the State is the landowner, has recently been completed by DCENR.

This project has resulted in the production of comprehensive information on the location and relative risk to the environment and human and animal health posed by these sites.

The project was jointly managed and funded by the EPA and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and was carried out by geologists of the GSI.

Gormley signals intention to inquire into planning decisions nationwide

Environment Minister John Gormley has announced that he intends to launch investigations into a number of planning decisions around the country following complaints received by his department.

Opening the Green Party convention in Waterford last week, Mr Gormley said he would begin inquiries under the terms of the Planning Act, following complaints about breaches of the legislation.

Some of the complaints are believed to relate to the way in which some local authorities have contravened their own developments plans, while others relate to the failure of local authorities to dismantle illegal developments.

Mr Gormley told the convention that attempts were now being made to mask questionable rezoning decisions with claims that jobs are at stake. He cited an attempted rezoning decision in south county Dublin as an example of what was happening.

“This type of developer-led planning - the type that got us into this current mess - does not create jobs. It costs - it costs the environment, it costs taxpayers money and it costs jobs,” he said.

Mr Gormley added that last month there was an attempt by some councillors to assist a developer in rezoning a swathe of land for a supermarket beside a motorway in south county Dublin.

“In this, the south Dublin case, years of planning to create a new town centre in south Dublin - and €350 million of public and private investment into a new Luas line - would have been undermined because one developer had other ideas and land elsewhere. It is no surprise, therefore, that our planning Bill ... has been opposed tooth and nail by some Opposition politicians.”

Mr Gormley said that the county councils were the foundations of our political system and he had the utmost respect for most local councillors.

“That said, despite all that we have been through ... some councillors are still engaging in crony capitalism. With business as usual in our council chambers, the noble words on reform and accountability by some political party leaders ring hollow,” he said.

Mr Gormley added that people should remember that too often in the past, planning principles were put aside in the name of commercial and financial expediency and claims about creating and sustaining employment.

The Irish Times

Gormley signals intention to inquire into planning decisions nationwide

Environment Minister John Gormley has announced that he intends to launch investigations into a number of planning decisions around the country following complaints received by his department.

Opening the Green Party convention in Waterford last week, Mr Gormley said he would begin inquiries under the terms of the Planning Act, following complaints about breaches of the legislation.

Some of the complaints are believed to relate to the way in which some local authorities have contravened their own developments plans, while others relate to the failure of local authorities to dismantle illegal developments.

Mr Gormley told the convention that attempts were now being made to mask questionable rezoning decisions with claims that jobs are at stake. He cited an attempted rezoning decision in south county Dublin as an example of what was happening.

“This type of developer-led planning - the type that got us into this current mess - does not create jobs. It costs - it costs the environment, it costs taxpayers money and it costs jobs,” he said.

Mr Gormley added that last month there was an attempt by some councillors to assist a developer in rezoning a swathe of land for a supermarket beside a motorway in south county Dublin.

“In this, the south Dublin case, years of planning to create a new town centre in south Dublin - and €350 million of public and private investment into a new Luas line - would have been undermined because one developer had other ideas and land elsewhere. It is no surprise, therefore, that our planning Bill ... has been opposed tooth and nail by some Opposition politicians.”

Mr Gormley said that the county councils were the foundations of our political system and he had the utmost respect for most local councillors.

“That said, despite all that we have been through ... some councillors are still engaging in crony capitalism. With business as usual in our council chambers, the noble words on reform and accountability by some political party leaders ring hollow,” he said.

Mr Gormley added that people should remember that too often in the past, planning principles were put aside in the name of commercial and financial expediency and claims about creating and sustaining employment.

The Irish Times

Gormley sets out Roadmap to New Waste Policy

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, TD, has set out his plans for the delivery of a new waste management policy for Ireland.

The process will involve significant consultation with key stakeholders and the general public over the coming weeks. “I want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the development of the Government’s waste management policy. The policy will focus on moving Ireland away from an over-emphasis on residual waste management and to a focus on prevention, minimisation and recycling.”

As a first step in the process, the Minister launched a consultation on a draft Bill which has been approved by Government for the application of levies to landfills and incinerators.

The levies will be designed to ensure material which can be recycled and add value is not drawn to large scale residual waste treatment facilities. Therefore, it is envisaged that a banded series of levies will be applied to facilities based on capacity.

“In order to have the dissuasive effect required, those who process more, will pay more,“said the Minister.

The levies are also seen as a means of driving material away from landfill, in order to meet challenging EU targets.

“Levies are just part of a range of measures which will contribute to the development of a sustainable, resource-based waste management policy,” added the Minister.

In the coming weeks, Minister Gormley will be launching a consultation document which will set out the various elements being considered as part of the development of a new waste management policy for the country. As part of this process, he will prioritise engagement with the public on specific issues in the document including the management of biodegradable waste through the rollout of brown bins and home composting and the capping of the volume of material permitted to be sent for incineration.

“Waste, when viewed as a resource, has the potential to make a significant contribution to economic recovery through the development of a vibrant recycling sector using the most advanced technologies,” he said.

The proposals mean that a tonne of waste going to landfill will have a €75 levy by 2012 - however, that figure could increase.

Incinerators face a similarly significant hit - but larger facilities, which process more waste, will be compelled to pay more.

This strategy of a sliding scale of levies could pose a particular problem for Dublin's Poolbeg incinerator, with its massive 600,000 tonne capacity.

In addition, incinerators also face a cap - or limit - on the amount of waste they can accept.

Snail protection plan off to a tee at Doonbeg Golf Club

THE POPULATION of a protected snail, the Vertigo angustior, at the Greg Norman-designed Doonbeg golf course has increased six-fold to 60 million. With more of the snail living there than almost anywhere else, the conservation project can now be regarded as a model of its kind.

That is according to an expert in the subject, Dr Evelyn Moorkens, who has monitored the management by Doonbeg Golf Club of the 1.8mm snail at the west Co Clare links over the past 10 years.

She said yesterday: “The snail is thriving at the course, and what has occurred at Doonbeg is a model in terms of sustainable development, and I can’t think of another instance where the notion of sustainable development as understood in the EU habitats directive has been embraced so much.”

The presence of the snail at the course held up its construction in 2000 after Tony Lowes of the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) took a High Court action seeking to ensure the conservation of the snail.

The protection of the animal was the subject of a High Court settlement with Mr Lowes, and also part of the planning conditions granted by An Bord Pleanála.

According to Dr Moorkens, the estimated snail population at the course has grown from 10 million in 2000 to 60 million last year.

“Last year was a phenomenal year for the snail at the course. The damp conditions, along with the management regime in place, were perfect for the snail. There are now more snails at the course than are present in most countries.”

Dr Moorkens, an independent ecological consultant, was commenting yesterday arising from a report on the snail just lodged by her at Clare County Council concerning a plan by Doonbeg Golf Club for the retention of a contentious wall.

She lodges annual reports with the Department of the Environment on the conservation status of the snail.

Dr Moorkens said: “The management by the golf club of the snail has been superb. You can’t fault them. It is nature as it should be.”

One of the conservation measures carried out by the golf club is “hiring” cattle to graze in a special area of conservation (SAC) during certain periods of the year, to ensure that the dunes do not become overgrown.

Dr Moorkens said: “You have to hand it to them. They are up for the challenge, and that is what people want to see.”

The general manager of Doonbeg Golf Club, Joe Russell, said: “I think wherever golf is played Doonbeg will always be identified with our snail, Vertigo angustior. Happily, since the golf club was established, the snail has thrived.”

Mr Lowes said: “Doonbeg Golf Club and the Parks and Wildlife Service both deserve great credit, but it’s worth remembering that this level of conservation was only achieved by a long struggle through An Bord Pleanála and the Irish courts.”

Irish Times

Sunday 28 March 2010

Docklands board to seek inquiry into deals

The board of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) will call for an inquiry into the property deals and planning decisions made by the previous board and executive of the state agency over a 10-year period.

The inquiry, which will have full powers of discovery, will be proposed next month by Professor Niamh Brennan, who was appointed DDDA chairman in March 2009. The agency is finalising three reports to government on the planning decisions, financial management and corporate governance of the agency since it was set up in 1997.

Sources close to the DDDA said the reports had identified structural weaknesses in the agency and “confirmed all the reasons we have to be worried”.

“Niamh Brennan and the board were never going to be in a position to look at files in the offices of Anglo Irish Bank [which financed a number of the DDDA’s projects], interview Sean FitzPatrick [the former Anglo chairman] and others, or put allegations to people. That was not their role,” the source said. “But in gathering the information they have, they could be in a position to say, here’s what we think you should be inquiring further about.”

The three reports requested by John Gormley, the environment minister, were circulated to interested parties, including former directors, in recent days.

Phil Hogan, the Fine Gael environment spokesman, leaked copies of the draft reports to the media, accusing Gormley of covering up Brennan’s findings. He also published correspondence between the DDDA, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Finance in 2006, secured under freedom of information legislation.

The emails and letters showed that Dick Roche, then environment minister, gave DDDA approval within 14 working days to borrow €127m — its annual borrowing ceiling — so it could become a partner in the €427m purchase of the Dublin Glass Bottle site in Ringsend.

Hogan demanded to know why Brian Cowen, then finance minister, signed off on the approval, as required under law, within such a short timeframe and without seeking a due diligence test on the value of what was a record property transaction for a state agency.

A government spokesman rejected the charges as “a cheap attempt to smear the taoiseach” which deliberately ignored crucial facts.

“Brian Cowen as minister for finance did not approve the purchase of the site in question,” he said. “The [DDDA] is entitled to borrow up to a limit of €127m, with the approval of the minister for the environment, heritage and local government and the consent of the minister for finance.”

He said Cowen gave his consent following full consideration of this matter by senior officials in his department who “recommended, subject to your approval, that the DDDA be allowed to borrow the funds necessary to purchase the site”.

The Hogan correspondence tracks exchanges between civil servants as they assess whether to recommend the consent of government. In one, a senior finance official tells a colleague that “our main concern would be that any semi-state borrower has had quotes from a number of banks”.

The second civil servant then tells a department of the environment official that because the DDDA was a commercial semi-state, its borrowings would not impact on the general government debt.

Although its request to use its annual borrowing limit in a single deal was “unusual”, he noted, it was a matter for the environment department to assess if this was appropriate.

Asked about the apparently casual nature of some of the exchanges between civil servants, Hogan said the officials “took a view” based on the assumptions of Paul Maloney, [the then DDDA chief executive], and his board promising a 15% return on this investment.

“Nobody did any due diligence in relation to these assumptions,” he said. “There was no valuation carried out on the site independently, there was no financial expertise deployed independently and there was only one bank asked to quote, as far as we can see.”

Sunday Times

Tesco's massive turbines to eclipse tallest building

Retail giant Tesco is to be granted planning permission to construct two massive 300-feet high wind turbines at its distribution centre in north Dublin that, when completed, will be taller than the Republic's tallest building, The Elysian in Cork.

Fingal Co Council has just given the provisional go-ahead for the two wind turbines that will each have a 213-feet tall support base and 85-feet wide blades that will bring the total height of the structures to 91 metres. That's slightly under 300 feet and makes them about 30 feet higher than the Elysian and nearly half the height of the landmark Poolbeg power station chimneys in Dublin.

The council recently indicated its intention to approve planning permission for the development, which will help power the distribution centre, while previous opponents of the plan can now take their case to An Bord Pleanála.

It is understood that the turbines need to be so high in order to capture enough wind to generate a viable amount of electricity.

The towers are so tall that search and rescue helicopters will have to plot new routes to safely bypass the turbines during adverse weather, while air traffic control at Dublin Airport had concerns that two turbines would be picked up by its radar system. That had the potential for the huge structures to be mistaken for light aircraft.

Tesco originally applied for permission to construct the turbines in 2007, but withdrew that application before putting it to the council again last year.

Following concerns raised by both the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and Dublin Airport, Tesco engaged a consultancy to determine the potential impact. The report found that the turbines will occasionally generate so-called 'primary target' echoes on the airport's radar system, depending on weather conditions.

Primary targets are generated by land-based radar systems without any additional information being provided to the system by identification equipment on board aircraft.

The report also found that on 'rare occasions', the turbines could produce what are known as 'false plots' - which are radar signals received that don't correspond to the actual position of a real aircraft.

However, the major concerns expressed by the IAA were addressed.

Locals branded the plan as inappropriate and said that solar panels would have been better.

The Irish Independent

Bord rejects M&S's plans

An Bord Pleanála has told Marks Spencer it can’t build a 10-storey extension to the rear of its store (above) in the Jervis Centre on Mary Street, Dublin 1 because it could interfere with the operation of the Luas. This decision overturns an earlier one by Dublin City Council to approve the development subject to over 20 planning conditions.

MS wanted to develop the building as part of a wider plan to expand and revamp its store. It wanted to demolish a two-storey structure to the rear of the store and build a 10-storey retail, commercial and residential scheme fronting Upper Abbey Street and Liffey Street.

This would have provided an extension to the ground and first floor level retail space located mainly in the six-storey Mary Street building with seven floors of 42 apartments above. However, the Railway Procurement Agency appealed the planning permission to An Bord Pleanála saying MS had failed “to address the concerns over road user safety which RPA consider will arise from the proposed development”.

An Bord Pleanála also ruled that, given its prominent location on Upper Abbey Street (visible from a number of sensitive locations including O’Connell Street), the scheme’s excessive height and scale would be “overly dominant” on the landscape. It ruled that the size and layout of the proposed service yard and proximity of vehicular access to Luas stops could pose a serious traffic hazard “and interfere with the efficient operation of the Luas”.

Irish Times

DDDA denies making representations

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) has denied it or its former CEO Paul Maloney made “representations” to developer Bernard McNamara which induced him to get involved in a joint bid with the authority for the Irish Glass Bottle (IGB) site at Ringsend and caused him massive losses.

While Mr Maloney had written to Mr McNamara in October 2006 concerning the site, the DDDA has denied he “represented” the DDDA could fast-track permission for its development or could procure a Luas route to the site, Mr Justice Peter Kelly was told today.

The DDDA also pleads any losses suffered by Mr McNamara and Donatex over the IGB site acquisition are not attributable to its alleged failure to fast track permission for the site as, it claims, such permission always had to be approved by the Minister for the Environment.

In Commercial Court proceedings against the DDDA, Mr McNamara has claimed these and other alleged “representations” by Mr Maloney persuaded him to get involved in bidding for the site and ultimately exposed him to claims of more than €108 million.

He claims, following a High Court finding in 2008 the DDDA acted outside its powers in how it fast-tracked permission for another docklands development at North Wall Quay, the DDDA was never entitled to enter in November 2006 into an agreement involving himself and developer Derek Quinlan related to development of the site.

The DDDA was unable to perform its obligations under that IGB agreement and had therefore frustrated the ability of Mr McNamara and others to develop the site, meaning very substantial losses for them, it is alleged.

Mr McNamara said he faced potential claims totalling more than €108 million on foot of loans raised from Anglo Irish Bank and private investors with Davy Property Holdings Ltd and also on foot of personal guarantees given by him over those loans.

The proceedings by Mr McNamara, Ailesbury Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, and his company Donatex Ltd, Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, against the DDDA were before Mr Justice Kelly today to deal with discovery issues.

The sides had agreed most of the discovery matters but disagreed about the time length for discovery of documents related to alleged “representations” by the DDDA to the plaintiffs which allegedly led to the agreement of November 2006.

The DDDA was prepared to discover documents from September 2006 to January 2007, when the formal contract was signed, but Mr McNamara’s side argued such discovery should extend up to the time their proceedings issued.

Mr Justice Kelly ruled discovery up to January 2007 relating to the alleged representations was adequate and the additional discovery sought was irrelevant and not necessary.

In his case, Mr McNamara claims the Dublin Port Company and South Wharf plc had advertised the IGB site for sale by tender in September 2006. He claims Mr Maloney approached him a month later about becoming involved with the DDDA and submitting a bid for the site. Mr McNamara said he initially indicated he was not interested as he believed it would not be possible to generate a profit.

He claims Mr Maloney made several later representations to him, including the DDDA could procure a route for the Luas to the site and, as planning authority, could “fast-track” any application for permission for development without the risk of appeals to An Bord Pleanála by others.

It was in those circumstances Mr McNamara alleges he would be prepared to consider a joint bid with the DDDA for the site, it is claimed. Beebay Ltd was later incorporated and used by Mr McNamara and the DDDA to bid for the site.

Mempal Ltd, a company controlled by Mr Quinlan, later acquired an interest in Beebay. In November 2006, Donatex held 41 per cent, Mempal 33 per cent and DDDA 26 per cent of Beebay.

Beebay acquired the site for some €412 million with funds of some €288 million from Anglo Irish Bank (later converted into a joint facility provided by Anglo and Allied Irish Bank), €57.5 million from Donatex, €32.1 million from the DDDA and €46.3 million from Mempal.

Mr McNamara claims it was a condition of the loans to Beebay he provide a guarantee for €41 million of the sum advanced to Beebay and also for 41 per cent of all interest payable by Beebay.

The funds provided by Donatex were sourced from private clients of Davy Property Holdings Ltd (Davy) who last January secured judgment for €62.5 million against Mr McNamara under his personal guarantee over loans to Donatex. The investors also obtained €98 million judgment against Donatex.

Irish Times

Planning battle lost at exclusive estate

HISTORY DOESN’T relate if Ronan Keating took any time off from his world “Ronan” tour to help with Abington Residents Association’s planning battle to stop an apartment block at the entrance to the exclusive estate being raised in height by a storey.

If he did, it will have all been in vain. The residents lost the fight and An Bord Pleanála has approved a fourth storey for the apartment block at Abington Wood which will give it two 148sq m (1,593sq ft) penthouse apartments with large terraces.

Fiona Fair, the planning inspector, recommended that the board approve the development. The report mentioned that the butterfly roof would only increase the overall height by 3 metres.

Residents, however, felt that it would overlook private residential amenity space and said that some customers of the crèche on the ground floor of the apartment block use the roundabout in Abington to turn their cars which they said is “unacceptable” because Abington is a private estate.

They also complained that a four-storey height is unprecedented in the area. Other well known residents of Abington include Westlife’s Nicky Byrne and his wife Georgina Ahern .

Irish Times

Weston loses appeal on hangars

THE HIGH Court has dismissed Weston Aerodrome’s appeal against An Bord Pleanála’s rejection of its application to turn former farmyard buildings on its lands into aircraft hangars.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, dismissed Weston’s appeal after finding the board had taken all relevant matters into account before refusing permission for the hangars.

The privately licensed aerodrome between Lucan and Leixlip got planning permission from Kildare County Council in 2005 for the change of use of farmyard buildings into 2,000sq m of hangars to be used for light aircraft.

The board overturned that decision on appeal.

An Bord Pleanála ruled the proposed hangar development was unacceptable because it amounted to intensification of the aerodrome in a piecemeal way. It also ruled their location would be likely to create a traffic hazard.

The board added that the proposed change of use conflicted with its previous decision of 2003 granting permission for one large hangar, a control tower and office/ clubhouse but refusing permission for another five hangars.

Weston had challenged the board’s refusal on grounds including it had misinterpreted its previous permission in relation to intensification of use and/or had fettered its own discretion in relation to granting a new permission.

Irish Times

Fine Gael TD hints at corruption in An Bord Pleanála

A SUGGESTION OF possible corruption in An Bord Pleanála has been made in the Dáil by a Fine Gael TD. Kerry South deputy Tom Sheahan questioned the logic of members of the board rejecting an inspector's report to either recommend or refuse planning permission when they themselves "have not visited the site".

"Some people say to me - but I would not be that narrow-minded - that maybe there are members of the board who are taking money. Perhaps there are members of An Bord Pleanála who are taking money because they have never visited the site".

Mr Sheahan also hit out at what he called "serial objectors", who he believed should have to pay €200, rather than €20 to object to a planning application. He said he knew of one such objector who "took €25,000 in cash to withdraw an objection to planning permission for two family members on a holding". And he claimed "a lot of these people are aligned and associated with An Taisce and the Green Party".

He was speaking during the second stage debate of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, which amends planning laws and aims to promote sustainable development.

Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk warned him that he had made a serious allegation against members of An Bord Pleanála. Mr Kirk noted Mr Sheahan had not made an allegation against an individual member but "it is inappropriate to make such an allegation under the protection of the House unless the deputy is in a position to substantiate it". Mr Sheahan said "I have said what I said and I stand by it".

He also said it was "ironic that a Green Minister is bringing this Bill before us because he is centralising power to himself". But Minister for the Environment John Gormley who replied to the debate, rejected this and said "that's just not the way we see it. It's the exact opposite in fact."

The Fine Gael TD said "when a planning file is appealed to An Bord Pleanála, an inspector will come to inspect on behalf of the board and write up recommendations".

The recommendation "goes before An Bord Pleanála and those sitting around the table, who have not visited the site, will refuse the inspector's report. How many times have deputies seen that happen? Is that logical and does it make sense?"

Mr Sheahan said "there are 22 ghost estates in Kerry". Planning "is a function of the executive and those involved made executive decisions to grant planning permission for those estates, yet the person seeking planning permission for a one-off rural house receives a blank 'No'. It's a shambles."

David Stanton (FG, Cork East) said that the houses in ghost estates could be used "to put a roof over the heads of people who have no houses, or are living in overcrowded conditions".

Michael D'Arcy (FG, Wexford) said it was "planning madness" that An Bord Pleanála for Dublin "has stipulated in certain cases that buildings cannot have more than 13 storeys . . . Yet there are small towns with populations of less than 50,000 where such applications have been granted."

Irish Times

Approval for development on Carlton site

PROPERTY DEVELOPER Joe O’Reilly has secured planning approval for a major redevelopment of the Carlton Cinema site in central Dublin.

The permission, announced by An Bord Pleanála yesterday, covers a 2.7 hectare site encompassing most of a block of Upper O’Connell Street and fronting on to Henry Street, Moore Street, O’Rahilly Parade and Parnell Street.

Much of the landmark site has been derelict since 1979 with threats of litigation between Mr O’Reilly’s company Chartered Land, a group of individual site owners known as the Carlton Group, and the city council.

The area has considerable historic interest encompassing much of the escape route from the GPO taken by the leaders of the 1916 Rising, and their ultimate final headquarters in 16 Moore Street.

Numbers 14 to 17 Moore Street are now a national monument, and are to become the focal point of a new civic and cultural space.

In granting the permission, the board noted the site’s “cultural and historic”, as well as considerable architectural interest. It singled out protected structures on O’Connell Street and Moore Street, and the importance of the overall location at the centre of the capital city. To be called “Dublin Central”, the approved development site is to incorporate an east-west pedestrian access route taking the form of a “colonnade” leading from O’Connell Street through to Moore Street.

This will provide a new, linear pedestrian route starting at right angles to Upper O’Connell Street, passing through the new centre and continuing under a covered walkway across Moore Street and into the Moore Mall, plaza and central mall of the Ilac Centre.

The protected facade of the former Carlton cinema is to be relocated about 50 metres farther north of its current position.

Mr O’Reilly is a well known developer whose most notable project has been the Dundrum Town Centre in south Dublin.

He has already agreed a deal with major UK department store John Lewis to be one of the largest anchor stores in the development, which his company Chartered Land yesterday estimated would represent a total investment of €900 million and create 3,500 construction jobs and 4,500 permanent jobs.

Dominic Deeny, chief executive of Chartered Land, said the decision “means we will be able to deliver a major retail-led 800,000 sq ft development for Dublin city centre that will complete the regeneration of O’Connell Street and reposition it as the nation’s premier retail street again”.

The primary elements of the scheme include 98 retail units, 69 residential units, 4,500 sq metres of restaurants and coffee houses and some 700 car parking spaces.

Irish Times

DDDA plan is not 'fair, equitable and transparent' report

The planning scheme drawn up for the €412m Irish Glass Bottle site and the surrounding area has "not to date been carried out in a fair, equitable and transparent manner", according to a report drawn up for the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA). The planning scheme, which is the responsibility of the DDDA, has "planning problems" but "no illegalities have been found", according to planning consultants Brady Shipman Martin, which was commissioned to write the report into the Poolbeg draft planning scheme.

The DDDA is now considering how the issues raised by Brady Shipman Martin can be resolved.

Meanwhile, documents released last week to Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan show that Dublin Port, which was one of the vendors, believed the site was worth €300m in June 2006, but that the DDDA only believed it was worth about €220m in October of that year. The DDDA ended up being part of a consortium that tendered €412m for the site.

The documents show that former DDDA chief executive Paul Maloney wrote to the Department of the Environment on 2 October, 2006 seeking approval to borrow up to €127m to allow it invest in property.

The letter was sent to Mary Moylan, an assistant secretary at the department who was also a board member of the DDDA at the time. "As discussed with you, the Authority is now seeking approval from the Department… to put a borrowing facility in place with one of the main Irish clearing banks," the letter said, adding that this was to allow it "pursue a number of land acquisitions in the next number of months".

It later states that "acquisitions will be pursued in joint venture with private developers on a commercial basis where the development will seek a return that will equate to those achieved in the open market. Currently this is expected to deliver returns of c 15%".

The following day, at a board meeting of the DDDA, Maloney briefed them on the "confidential negotiations he had undertaken with a developer who had indicated an intention to bid for the site" and would welcome the DDDA becoming involved. "The board agreed that the executive could open negotiations with the potential tender partner with a view to formulating a joint bid," the minutes show.

Sunday Tribune

Glanbia's old Kilmeaden plant gets new zoning status

Glanbia has had part of its former cheese production facility in Kilmeaden designated a strategic development site in the new Waterford county development plan, which will govern future construction in the county from 2011 and 2017. It follows its earlier success in having 64 acres of the 260-acre site rezoned from industrial zoning to a combination of industrial, commercial, office and mixed use.

The decision to pursue the rezoning followed a review of options for the land undertaken by the company's property business unit following the relocation of the facility in 2006. At that stage only the 30 or so acres surrounding the cheese factory buildings were zoned industrial.

"The site is extremely well positioned to take advantage of the new M9 motorway opening later this year, which will provide motorway status links from the site at Kilmeaden to Dublin and Belfast. Furthermore Kilmeaden is situated eight kilometres west of Waterford city on the N25 main link to Cork," the company told the Sunday Tribune. "The other key strategic advantage is an established natural gas supply to the site which is not available in other locations of this scale in the region."

Glanbia subsequently set up a task force that includes personnel representing the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Waterford Co Council, Waterford Chamber and business professionals which has been in place for 18 months. Its members are actively promoting the site to potential inward investors, including life science groups.

Sunday Tribune

Dublin Docklands Development Authority in a battle for survival

'It is now clear that key information on planning issues were deliberately and systematically withheld from the current executive board. The agreement entered into by senior executives of the authority without the knowledge or authority of the executive board in relation to the Anglo Irish Bank headquarter building is a case in point"

January 2010 report by executive board of the DDDA to the Minister for Environment John Gormley

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority is in a battle for its financial life, a battle that it now seems destined to lose. The corporate governance reports released by Fine Gael's Phil Hogan show the extent of the problems.

"The financial outturn for 2010 is dependent on a payment due to the Authority of €20m in September 2010," according to a report by the executive board.

In addition, the DDDA is owed over €8m in levies and, as first reported in the Sunday Tribune, it has had to appoint debt collection services to pursue the unpaid debts. On top of this is its annual interest bill of €5m for the Irish Glass Bottle site and the DDDA quite simply is "incapable of operating on a break-even basis with this annual liability".

The upshot is that the authority may come under pressure to exceed its borrowing limits of €127m and that's where the taxpayer comes in. The State may have to pump money into a body that is running at a significant annual loss and where there is little hope of the money being recouped. The resemblance to Anglo Irish Bank is striking. And it is Anglo's tentacles that move everywhere in the DDDA, with cross-directorships and the bank's culture influencing the way the authority did its business. The damning result is that both are insolvent.

The documents released last week contain a wealth of new information. There was a "loose culture" in relation to internal systems of financial control. Salary increases were handled by then ceo Paul Maloney with "no oversight in his execution of these responsibilities, partly because the ceo did not bring these matters to the board's attention". In other areas, there were systems in place for cost control but they weren't implemented in practice. Perhaps most worryingly of all, "value-for-money considerations were largely absent in the work of the authority" until 2007.

This is summed up by the €625,000 spent on board and executive expenses between 2005 and 2009 and a jaw dropping €650,000 spent on public relations since 2006, all of which was first revealed in the Sunday Tribune. The worry for the taxpayer is that this may only be the beginning. The authority says it is operating "in a very litigious environment and it is possible that the Authority may be subject to other legal challenges in the future". Some of these legal challenges are likely to come from developers, some of whom have found that the planning permission for their buildings may not be valid while others are waking up to the possibility that they lost out on tenants to buildings that should not be standing because of "inappropriate planning decisions in the past", according to the executive report.

The authority put it best when it said that the findings of the report into planning by Declan Brassil "are commercially sensitive, with significant risks that legal steps may be taken against the Authority arising from its past planning practices". The costs of such actions can only be guessed, but no prizes for guessing who will be left with the bill.

Sunday Tribune

Carroll's offices aimed at BoI staff approved

Liam Carroll's development vehicle Danninger, which is in receivership following a move by AIB, has been given the go-ahead for a huge office complex in Dublin's north docks which was originally targeted as a back office for Bank of Ireland. About 8,000 people would have been based in the building if a deal had been agreed.

The developer had tried to woo the bank to the north docks as part of his plan for a domestic financial services centre which would have involved new offices being developed for Anglo Irish Bank, AIB and Bank of Ireland. He spent €250m buying up land for the plan. In the end construction commenced only on the block earmarked for Anglo before the developer's empire collapsed.

The Anglo block is unfinished due to a planning dispute. It has been before An Bord Pleanála for 14 months and the board has yet to make a decision on its validity. If it rules against it, the building may be demolished.

Before development can take place on the site originally earmarked for BoI, a fee of €3.7m will have to be paid to Dublin City Council and another €770,000 will have to be paid towards the Metro North project.

The plan for three interconnected office blocks and a landscaped park was approved by the council subject to standard conditions.

Carroll's talks with AIB Capital Markets at the time involved a plan to raise the height of a building planned for the site to 110 metres, nearly twice the height of Liberty Hall.

Sunday Tribune

Desmond bashes Liberty Hall plan

Billionaire businessman Dermot Desmond has objected to plans for the redevelopment of Liberty Hall in Dublin, saying it "proceeds from a complete failure to recognise that a building of such height cannot work at that location".

He said the submission by trade union SIPTU for a new building of up to 20 storeys in places used "cavalier language" that denied the reality that Liberty Hall fails as a design concept and as a building.

"The existing Liberty Hall is, without doubt, an uninspiring and ugly building – poorly conceived and utterly incongruous in its setting," Desmond wrote. "For the full duration of its existence it has been an all too evident reminder of an era when urban design values were under-appreciated within, if not completely absent from, the planning process." However, he said the new proposal would represent "gross over-development of this site" if it goes ahead.

Irish Life, meanwhile, said it had a "number of serious concerns" relating to the impact the development could have on its office at Beresford Court where Irish Life Investment Managers is based. "Irish Life would wish to support Siptu in the redevelopment of Liberty Hall, but cannot do so in this case because the proposal currently before the planning authority would have very severe impacts on its property and operations during the demolition and construction phase and will have long-term and severe impacts on the operation and value of its Beresford Court property," it told Dublin City Council. It said the plan to demolish Liberty Hall over 10 months was "exceptional", particularly given that Lansdowne Road stadium was demolished in three months.

The VHI has also raised concerns, saying the value of its headquarters on Abbey Street could be adversely affected by the proposal. It could create overshadowing and cause downdrafts it said, but added that it supported the redevelopment of Liberty Hall in principle but not as presently proposed.

An Taisce's heritage officer Ian Lumley said that the plan "would be a monstrous intrusion on the skyline of the city".

Sunday Tribune

Blitz ghost estates, advises US expert

A LEADING US academic has recommended the "selective demolition" of ghost estates and Nama properties that have no value as commercial or residential developments.

The remnants of Ireland's burst property and construction bubble should be demolished in the same way that large parts of the US city of Detroit are being torn down, according to Dr James W Hughes.

Hughes, the internationally renowned Dean of the Edward J Bloustein School of Planning at the Rutgers University in New Jersey, has written extensively about demolition in Detroit and believes the wrecking ball needs to be introduced to deal with one of the biggest problems in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

Once one of the most heavily industrialised cities in America, Detroit was the home of the booming US motor industry for much of the last century, but the decline of that industry has left 20% of the buildings in the city empty and dilapidated.

Under a radical renewal plan, large swathes of derelict buildings that blight the city are being demolished with the land due to be returned to agricultural use.

"Things that were unthinkable are now becoming thinkable," said Hughes recently. "There is now a realisation that past glories are never going to be recaptured. Some people probably don't accept that, but that is the reality."

Although he pointed out the significant differences bet­ween the Detroit and Irish examples, he does recommend demolition in Ireland.

"Some buildings may have been built under economic conditions where there appeared to be abundant, seemingly risk-free, cheap global credit that may never return," he told the Sunday Tribune this weekend.

"So some residential estates may never have buyers for the foreseeable future given the overhang of excess inventories. Selective demolition may well be in order if there is no potential of reuse."

He claimed that some empty buildings in parts of Ireland "may still have some economic value in future. The Empire State Building in New York was completed in 1931. It took until 1955 to be fully occupied with private tenants."

Pointing out the differences between the Detroit and Irish examples, Hughes said that Detroit had excessive properties before the current foreclosure crisis in the US.

The downfall started in the late 1960s with race riots and the subsequent 'white flights' to the suburbs. The decline of the auto industry also eroded the city's economic base. This left a massive "depopulated and de-industrialised" city with an array of abandoned, badly aging residential and commercial property that has long lost any economic value.

"Since the city will never return to its past heights, it makes sense to clear large swathes of land and concentrate people in areas that could function as sustainable communities," he added. "Public services could shrink to this new footprint, saving costs, and the vacant land could be used as parks, urban wilderness, or urban agriculture."

Hughes' assessment of the Irish problem comes as it emerged in recent days that the toxic loans agency Nama is prepared to demolish half-completed buildings which it believes have no value as commercial or residential developments.

Nama faces the tough task of dealing with €21bn of work-in-progress assets and deciding what the long-term future of each asset is. Demolition of some sites and returning them to agricultural use is already being actively considered by Nama.

Sunday Tribune

Sunday 21 March 2010

Traders want area off Grafton Street pedestrianised

The businesses have formed the South William Quarter Association, and have made a submission to Dublin City Council asking for cars to be banned from several streets off Grafton Street.

The streets involved include South William Street, Drury Street and Clarendon Street.

Fintan Smyth, the owner of interiors and giftware shop Paradise Lane on South William Street, said that the area could become an internationally-renowned district.

‘‘We believe that the South William Quarter can be branded to become Dublin’s answer to the Marais in Paris, Chueca in Madrid, the West Village or Soho in New York, but we need to get the cars off the street first," he said.

‘‘The eclectic mix of independent business and retail is what makes a city different and worth visiting.

South William Street is becoming home to various independent retailers, bars and cafes, and is poised to become one of the city centre’s most vibrant, 24hour streets."

However, Smyth said that narrow footpaths, on-street parking and loading throughout the day were creating ‘‘chaos’’ in the area.

He confirmed that a submission had been made to the council about the pedestrianisation of certain streets.

The association also wants the council to restrict loading to before 11am each morning, and to widen the footpaths.

‘‘Immediate action is needed to boost this part of the city centre and we want heads at the council to act in unison and make this happen with urgency," said Smyth.

‘‘The cost is not high, but the potential return for retailers, shoppers, the city and council is very substantial.

‘‘Many people are not coming into the city centre any more, and are shopping locally.

‘‘We believe that a new streetscape can be achieved with a very modest investment."

Sunday Business Post

'Tipperary's councils will meet to discuss 'reunification'

THE QUESTION of the “reunification of Tipperary”, a county administratively divided at local authority level has been moved forward with plans for the two county councils to meet to discuss the issue.

It follows a proposal from Cllr John Hogan, a Fianna Fáil member of North Tipperary County Council which is based in Nenagh, who claimed the “premier county” was “losing out on investment, infrastructure and tourism” because of its separate north and south administrative areas and parliamentary constituencies.

Tom Hayes, a Fine Gael TD for Tipperary South, which is based in Clonmel, said: “There is duplication in every county but that needs to be sorted out at national level.”

He had no objection to councillors meeting “to thrash out the feasibility” of the reunification of Tipperary but “would question the benefit to the south of the count”.

However, Mr Hogan was fired up by the idea.

“Under British rule the county was divided into the North and South Ridings because they couldn’t control the rebels”, but these divisions had survived independence and the county still had two separate county councils and two Dáil constituencies, each returning three TDs.

He said despite the county having three Fianna Fáil TDs and “one supposed supporter” (the Independent TD, Michael Lowry), which was “enough to bring down the government”, the county was “losing out on structural funds” and its hospitals and third-level education facilities were “being downgraded”.

He questioned the value of Mr Lowry’s alleged “deal” with the Government, which he claimed had “delivered nothing of substance for Tipperary”.

Mr Hogan, who represents the Templemore electoral area, said there was a need to create a “new focus” and to “restore pride in the county”, like that felt by people when they “sing Slievenamon at a relative’s funeral or wave the Tipperary flag in Croke Park”.

He deplored the lack of coherence in marketing tourism, “with the south of the county in the southeast region and the north in the midwest region”.

The people of Tipperary “need to think like the Kerry people think”, he said, pointing out that “if you go into a hotel in Killarney and it’s booked out, they’ll send you to another one”.

But, in Tipperary, he claimed, “people just look after their own little pocket” and that “a visitor to the Rock of Cashel would never be directed to visit Lough Derg”. Mr Hogan said in addition to creating “just one county council”, he would also like to see the county’s two Dáil constituencies merged.

He was dismayed that, during a rare recent meeting of the two county councils (to discuss an education matter), “many of the councillors didn’t even know one another”.

However, they have agreed to put the reunification proposal on the agenda for a meeting “in the next month or so”.

Divided Tipperary The Facts

* Tipperary has two three-seat Dáil constituencies: Tipperary North (FF 1; FG 1; Ind 1); Tipperary South (FF 2; FG 1); Co Tipperary has 113 councillors on nine councils.
* North Tipperary County Council is based in Nenagh. South Tipperary County Council is based in Clonmel. Clonmel has a borough council.
* Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Nenagh, Templemore, Tipperary and Thurles have town councils.

Irish Times

Gormley set to amend Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown plan

MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley is expected to amend the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown development plan unless councillors drop a proposal to increase the volume of retail space in the area by up to 20 per cent.

In a letter earlier this week to the council, his department said the proposed amendment – adopted on March 10th against the advice of county manager Owen Keegan – would contravene retail planning guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).

The amendment, tabled by Cllr Jim O’Leary (FG), replaced the term “lettable retail floorspace” with “net sales area” throughout a chapter of the draft development plan dealing with the provision of shopping facilities.

“The department is of the view that the amendment contravenes the 2005 guidelines, which clearly differentiate between the relevant definitions,” the letter said, noting that “net sales area” typically constituted 80 – 90 per cent of the total lettable area.

“The effect of the amendment is to increase the total retail floorspace permitted in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown during the life of the plan by 10 to 20 per cent compared with that envisaged by the GDA retail strategy,” the department warned.

It said this would be a “material alteration” to the draft plan and, as such, should have been published for public consultation in accordance with the relevant section of the 2000 Planning Act “and should not therefore have proceeded”. The draft development plan is due to come into force on April 8th and, if councillors do not amend the disputed definition of retail space, the Minister would have no option but to use his powers under the 2000 Act to bring it into compliance.

Mr Gormley earlier issued a direction to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to reconsider the rezoning of Park Village, near the N11 in Carrickmines, from a neighbourhood centre to a potentially much larger district centre — also against planning advice.

When the matter came to a vote on March 10th, cathaoirleach Marie Baker (FG) had to use her casting vote to uphold the Minister’s direction after receiving legal advice from the officials that the council had to accept it — whether or not the members agreed.

Irish Times

Government's water plans criticised

Environmental campaigners today attacked the Government’s plans for protecting the country’s waters.

On the eve of World Water Day activists said new management proposals were wholly inadequate in preventing pollution of rivers, lakes and bays.

The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) claimed raw or insufficiently treated sewage was flowing into more than 100 locations nationwide because of poor handling of waste water.

The Government is required to produce water management plans under the European Union’s Water Framework Directive.

But SWAN - which is made up of 24 different campaign groups - urged Minister for the Environment John Gormley not to sign off on the proposals.

“Despite the fact that under law they must set out a management plan for all our waters, our coastal waters are being completely ignored,” spokeswoman Sineád O’Brien said.

“This is a disgrace, given that we are an island nation and rely on clean coasts for fishing, business, recreation and tourism,” she added. “I find it hard to believe that a Green Minister, and one from a coastal constituency at that, is overseeing plans with such major failings.”

Ms O’Brien said the plans also did little or nothing to prevent the destruction of freshwater habitats from agriculture, forestry and sewage pollution.

“In Ireland we are lucky to still have a few of the most pristine lakes and river stretches in Europe,” she said. “These should be treasured as the jewels in the crown of our landscape. Instead, even these last gems are being ruined because the Government continues to allow pollution to flow into them.”

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said Mr Gormley had not yet seen the plans, which are being drafted up by local authorities before being submitted to him.

“He’s anxious to have plans of the highest quality possible so when he sees them he will look at them in detail and see if anything needs to be addressed.”

The spokesman defended the department’s handling of water management. “More money than ever before is being invested in water infrastructure in Ireland - €510 million this year, which is more than ever - and more resources than ever before are going into water enforcement.”

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s environment spokesman Phil Hogan called for a radical reform of the entire water system.

At the party’s national conference in Killarney Mr Hogan said the current water delivery infrastructure was a “shambles” and called for a single national utility company to take over from local authorities.

“This is a not a quango but a commercial company seeking a return on its investment and operations, similar to the ESB or Bord Gáis,” he said. “You can’t build a smart economy with dirty water.”

Irish Times

Firm loses Sandyford planning appeal

A PROPERTY development company has lost a High Court attempt to overturn An Bord Pleanála’s refusal of permission for a large development, including a cinema and 259 apartments, at Sandyford, Co Dublin.

Wexele, an unlimited liability company, had proposed to build the development on a site of some 0.67 hectares at Blackthorn Avenue, Sandyford Industrial Estate.

The development included 15 “live-work” apartment units, a gym, a creche, club cinema for the use of residents, 338 car spaces and a commercial floor space.

The Stillorgan Heath and Lakelands Residents Associations, and several individuals, were notice parties to the proceedings.

In a reserved judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill found the reasons given by the board for refusing permission were more than sufficient to discharge its statutory duty under the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council had in July 2005 decided to grant the proposed scheme planning permission, subject to conditions.

The company appealed against some of those conditions, while 12 other appeals were lodged against the initial decision to grant permission.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) had also expressed concerns about whether the M50/N31/N11 route had capacity for such a development.

In April 2008, the board refused planning permission, saying the proposed development would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

It also said the development was premature, given existing deficiencies in the road network service in the area and public transport facilities.

Irish Times

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Planning board told of NRA's 'extraordinary position'

A PROMINENT Irish developer has expressed concern over the influence which the National Roads Authority (NRA) has had on the State’s planning appeals board in a number of strategic decisions.

Cork developer Michael O’Flynn said: “It seems to me that the NRA believes that it is in some extraordinary position of power and influence, far above all other agencies as regards its contribution to the appeals process.”

Mr O’Flynn was speaking on the sixth day of a Bord Pleanála oral hearing concerning a €400 million development of 1,200 houses at Dunkettle outside Cork city which his company, O’Flynn Construction, proposes to build.

The NRA told the hearing last week that planning permission should be refused for the project as it would lead to even further traffic congestion at the Jack Lynch/Dunkettle interchange.

Mr O’Flynn said this was one of the rare occasions on which he had given evidence in an oral hearing. But he had felt compelled to do so on this occasion.

He pointed to a continuing failure on behalf of “certain Government agencies” to invest in Cork and in particular to ensure that the infrastructure of the region was adequate to support economic development.

“And now, not only is the NRA not investing in Cork but it is objecting to and frustrating the ongoing development of Cork and the implementation of the CASP (Cork Area Strategic Plan) strategy, our development and the Dunkettle Park and Ride being the most recent examples.”

Mr O’Flynn said he found it amazing that, not only had the NRA appointed three sets of consultants to overturn a decision taken by another public authority, but they had also flagged in a recent public prequalification tender document the possibility of objecting to no less than 18 planning applications which might affect the Dunkettle interchange.

“The logic of their position suggests that the NRA proposes to object to developments of any scale north and east of the Dunkettle Interchange . . . The board must consider if it will permit one agency to prevent the implementation of the vital policies underpinning the social and economic development of Cork.”

Earlier, the secretary of Glounthaune Community Association, Louise Oppermann, told the hearing of their concerns about the negative impact the development would have on the area in terms of traffic, residential amenity and on the character and setting of Dunkettle House, a protected structure.“We believe that, in the context of current economic and market realities, a fundamental reconsideration of approach is required in relation to the development of major housing schemes, particularly those of the ‘Celtic Tiger hangover’ type currently under appeal.”

Irish Times

Shell seeks tenders for onshore pipeline to service gas field

OIL EXPLORATION company Shell is seeking tenders for the design and construction of an underground onshore pipeline to service the Corrib natural gas field.

The multinational is considering housing a 5km onshore pipe that will convey the gas from its landfall to a terminal in a tunnel running through Sruwaddacon Bay, Co Mayo, according to a notice published in the official journal of the EU and on the Government’s e-tenders website.

It is seeking tenders from companies to design and build the tunnel, pipeline and accompanying services.

However, Shell told The Irish Times yesterday that this option is one of a number under consideration, and the fact that it is tendering for the service does not mean that it will ultimately follow this route.

The company earlier said in a statement: “We are currently investigating the design of a section of the onshore pipeline through Sruwaddacon Bay with a view to addressing, as fully as possible, all matters raised by An Bord Pleanála in its request for further information.”

The Corrib gas field lies about 80km off the Mayo coast, and contains enough gas to supply Ireland’s projected demand for at least a decade.

Shell and Norwegian state company Statoil are partners in the project. They plan to pipe the gas to the Mayo coast and from there to a terminal about 5km inland, for processing.

Planning rows and controversy have been a feature of the field’s development.

All companies involved in oil and gas extraction and in activities such as mining have to publish tender notices for large projects in the EU journal to allow businesses across the union to compete for the work.

Shell’s notice requires that companies which apply for the work at Sruwaddacon Bay should have turnovers of at least €100 million a year. Such requirements are a routine feature of tender notices.

The contracting companies will determine the final cost of the work. Shell’s notice gives no indication of the project’s value.

Irish Times

Aldi to build branch near Martello tower

LOW-COST SUPERMARKET chain Aldi has been granted permission to build a branch on the Portmarnock coast, opposite one of Dublin’s most popular beaches.

Fingal County Council this week granted permission for the supermarket in the grounds of the White Sands Hotel on the Strand Road opposite the Portmarnock Martello tower and beach, despite having received more than 50 objections to the plan.

The supermarket and off-licence development will have a 75-space car park, and will involve demolition of some hotel buildings.

Objections centred on the effect the development would have on one of Dublin’s best beaches known as the “velvet strand” and on the increase in traffic, particularly in summer months.

Local Portmarnock Labour Councillor Peter Coyle said he believed the decision was made in error based on a “colouring mistake” on the county development plan. Prior to 2005, the area was zoned as residential. However, this was seen as unfairly limiting to the hotel which had been on the site since the 1930s, Mr Coyle said.

To allow the hotel to build complementary facilities such as a leisure centre or a swimming pool, the councillors decided to include a provision in the 2005 development plan to give the hotel lands their own zoning. This zoning was included as a “local objective” to “retain the primary use of hotel on this site”. However, the colour used in the development plan map to indicate the new zoning was the same as that used to indicate suburban centre zoning.

Aldi “picked up on the colour”, Mr Coyle said and made their application on this basis. “The county manager should have intervened and it is very disappointing that he didn’t.”

Mr Coyle said he had appealed to county manager David O’Connor to become directly involved: “I am now going to appeal the council’s decision to An Bord Pleanála and I will seek an oral hearing.”

A spokeswoman for Fingal County Council said the council does not comment on individual planning applications or decisions.

Irish Times

190 submissions on Shell drill request

THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment says it received 190 submissions in response to an application by Shell EP Ireland to carry out investigative work in north Mayo’s Sruwaddacon estuary.

The department is still analysing Shell’s foreshore licence application to drill up to 80 boreholes in the estuary, which is a candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The company says it needs to carry out the work as part of site investigations for the Corrib gas onshore pipeline route. It has also sought tenders for design and construction of a pipeline under the estuary.

Late last year An Bord Pleanála suggested that the Corrib gas developers might explore the estuary as an alternative to a modified onshore route which the developers had sought permission for under the Strategic Infrastructure Act. The appeals board found half of the modified 9km route was “unacceptable” on safety grounds, due to proximity to housing in Rossport and between Glengad and Aughoose.

Shell consultants RPS had ruled against running the high-pressure pipeline through Sruwaddacon on environmental and technical grounds two years ago.

The consultants had noted in December 2007 that Sruwaddacon was designated under EU Habitats Directive Annex 1 habitats, and the bay was an “integral part of the Glenamoy river salmonid fishery”.

The Department of the Environment says it is still sorting through the 190 submissions on the foreshore licence application.

At least 140 submissions are from the area, according to the Shell to Sea campaign group. Community group Pobal Chill Chomáin and individual residents have also sent objections.

Shell to Sea has called on Minister for the Environment John Gormley to reject the application because it would entail “destructive” surveying works which, it is feared, would degrade the estuary’s SAC status.

Shell’s application says the boreholes would be up to 30mm to minimise disturbance and “it is not anticipated” that the work would have an adverse impact on the SAC.

Last month the company indicated that work on crucial parts of the project, including laying the umbilical and onshore pipeline, if approved, would take place next year.

Earlier this month the State and Shell lost their bid to stop two Mayo residents from pursuing High Court claims as to whether a ministerial consent given eight years ago for the onshore gas pipeline was valid.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled on March 4th that landowners Brendan Philbin of Rossport South and Bríd McGarry of Gortacragher were entitled to have that issue and other public law claims determined by the court.

In a related development, consultants RPS have confirmed that they plan to undertake a “noise survey” in the area as part of work on a revised environmental impact statement for An Bord Pleanála.

Such a survey measures the existing or “baseline” noise to gauge whether additional temporary noise is acceptable environmentally, according to the company.

Shell asked the appeals board for more time to supply further information and the board gave it until the end of May.

Irish Times

Dart underground application delayed

IARNRÓD ÉIREANN has had to delay its application to construct the Dart underground following discussions with An Bord Pleanála.

The company had been due to apply for a railway order for the project by the end of this month. However, due to “issues” raised by An Bord Pleanála in pre-planning meetings, it has had to look at its plans again; it now hopes to submit an application by the end of June.

A company spokesman said he could not give details of the issues raised by the planning board, but that they related to the detailed design and alignment of the route.

Opposition to the plans from residents in Inchicore, where the line will terminate, was “not one of the issues raised” by An Bord Pleanála and was not the reason for the delay, he added.

The 7.6km underground line, due to open in 2015, will link Heuston station to the Dart line for the first time, with underground stations at Spencer Dock, Pearse Street, St Stephen’s Green, Christchurch, Heuston and with a ground-level station at Inchicore.

However, some residents in Inchicore are opposing the development, claiming that tunnel-boring and station construction in such a densely populated area would make life unbearable.

A recently published report by London-based tunnelling consultants OTB Engineering, commissioned by residents group Inchicore on Track, recommended relocating the construction works a few hundred metres to an Iarnród Éireann works site.

The Dart underground project will involve splitting the current Dart line which runs north-south along the coast and creating a new interchange at Pearse Street. Once built, passengers travelling from the north side will no longer have direct access to Connolly or Tara Street stations. Their Dart will run as normal to Clontarf Road, but will then enter a tunnel at East Wall and continue to Inchicore.

Southside passengers will still have access to Pearse, Tara Street and Connolly.

However, after passing through Connolly, their train will turn west out to Maynooth, Co Kildare. To head north, they will have to change at Pearse.

Irish Times

Power plant to be built in Co Offaly

An Bord Pleanála has approved an application for a 350 megawatt gas fired power plant in Co Offaly.

Lumcloon Energy, the private consortium behind the project, expects to create 500 jobs during construction and up to 50 permanent jobs when the plant is completed.

The €350 million gas fired power plant, planned at the site of an old peat power plant at Lumcloon near Ferbane, will be backed up by wind energy.

Spokesman for Lumcloon Energy, Mr John Gallagher expressed his delight at the decision. He said it wouldn’t have been easy without local support.

“There was no specific objection to Lumcloon which I think is virtually unique to a project like this,” he explained. With construction expected to begin around the end of 2010 the Taoiseach has already been asked to turn the sod, he revealed.

Irish Times

Sunday 14 March 2010

Treasury had big role in Docklands development

MANY people may never have heard of the company, but just look to Dublin's Docklands and Treasury Holdings has had a hand in building big chunks of the business hub.

It has been without doubt one of the country's most successful commercial property firms.

And it is one of a small number of firms still building landmark projects. The Montebetro office block -- a 15-storey building on Barrow Street close to the Phoenix Park in Dublin -- is due to be finished later this year.

At Spencer Dock it constructed a number of office blocks as well as upmarket apartments, while some of its landmark developments in the area include the almost complete National Convention Centre.

Treasury Holdings has developed sites such as the Westin Hotel in College Green, Dublin, in a former bank building, and a raft of other high-profile offices and commercial properties.

It also built the swish Ritz-Carlton hotel in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow. Richard Barrett also persuaded celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to open a restaurant there.

Treasury Holdings' swanky offices in Dublin 4 were formally opened in late-2007 by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He praised Treasury Holdings for its use of carbon-neutral cement in the convention centre, and using wood-pellet boilers in the Ritz-Carlton. Treasury Holdings now has interests in China, Russia, Sweden and France, as well as in London.

Irish Independent

Gormley gets Spawell green light

Developer Frank Gormley has been given the go-ahead to redevelop the Spawell Golf and Leisure Centre in Templeogue, Dublin 6W.

Gormley's Wellington General Partner (WGP) has been given the thumbs up to plans to demolish the existing structures on the site and develop a new leisure centre, a 149-bedroom hotel, a driving range and two shops on the site.

WGP will have to pay more than €2.6m towards public infrastructure and facilities before development begins.

Accounts for WGP for the year ended 30 April 2008 show that the company incurred a loss of more than €12.1m after charging a provision for impairment of the property. After the year-end, noted auditors Dillon Kelly Cregan, the company received a formal demand from AIB for the repayment of the amounts it had advanced to the company. "The directors remain hopeful that the loan facilities can be renegotiated on the terms acceptable to the company. The directors have been engaged in ongoing discussions with the bank in this regard," an emphasis of matter note to the auditors' report states. There was also a deferred consideration of €13.6m arising from the acquisition of the company's property which was due on October 2009.

"It is the intention of the directors to seek payment terms from the creditors concerned for the discharge of this liability," the report states.

Sunday Tribune

Untangling the docklands web

The Comptroller & Auditor General will not be called in to look at the activities of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Taoiseach Brian Cowen decided last week, by refusing to sanction the move. The docklands was one of the playgrounds of the Celtic Tiger, and Neil Callanan outlines the links between the banks, the developers and the businessmen involved:

Lar Bradshaw
Seán Dunne
Bernard McNamara
Liam Carroll
Johnny Ronan
Paddy McKillen
Declan Quinlan


Current DDDA chairwoman Niamh Brennan has said that because of Anglo's influence, the DDDA "became very focused on development and used planning to facilitate and encourage development". The "association between Anglo and the DDDA has not served the authority well".

Gerry McCaughey -DDDA

Businessman McCaughey had barely started as chairman of the DDDA last year when he decided to step down after it was leaked that he took advantage of a loophole to legally reduce his tax liability when he sold his building company, Century Homes, in 2005.

Gerry McCaughey -Anglo

McCaughey is suing Anglo Irish Bank in relation to an investment fund that was set up by the bank to purchase and refurbish two hotels in New York. The bank claimed McCaughey was the "ringleader" behind claims of fraudulent representation and concealment against the bank and one of its subsidiaries.

Anglo-Quinlan, Paddy McKillen

McKillen invested in several properties with Quinlan's private equity management company, Quinlan Private. Anglo Irish Bank financed a number of the purchases. Sources in London say the two men were the main investors in the Asprey building at Bond Street there, which sold recently.

DDDA-Seán FitzPatrick, Lar Bradshaw, Donal O'Connor

Brennan has criticised the cross-directorships between the DDDA and Anglo Irish Bank. Former Anglo director Lar Bradshaw was the first chairman of the DDDA, former Anglo chief executive Seán FitzPatrick was on the board of the DDDA, and after Donal O'Connor became chairman of the DDDA he was invited to join the board of Anglo, which he accepted. After the bank was nationalised, O'Connor became its chairman and stepped down from the DDDA to ensure there was no suggestion of a conflict of interest. It was confirmed in recent days that he is to step down from the board of the bank later this year.

Lar Bradshaw and Seán Fitzpatrick

The two were on the board of the DDDA and Anglo. Both resigned from Anglo after it emerged FitzPatrick had hidden €87m of loans with the bank, transferring them to Irish Nationwide. Bradshaw resigned because one of his loans, held with Fitzpatrick, was temporarily transferred.

DDDA-Seán Dunne

Dunne took the DDDA to court after it gave the go-ahead for the Anglo headquarters buildings on the north docks on land adjoining a small site owned by him. The High Court took Dunne's side, saying the DDDA acted ultra vires in relation to the planning for the building. Dunne also developed the office block let to Matheson Ormsby Prentice in the docklands and The Bloodstone office block there.

Paul Coulson-Lar Bradshaw and Seán Fitzpatrick

Coulson, Bradshaw and FitzPatrick are among the investors in Balcuik, which owns the Atrium office buildings in Sandyford, Dublin, acquired for more than €95m. Other investors in Balcuik include Smurfit's Gary McGann, a former Anglo director.

Paul Coulson-Bernard McNamara and Derek Quinlan and the DDDA

Coulson's Ardagh found a loophole in the lease on its site in Poolbeg and subsequently agreed a deal with Dublin Port that it would take two-thirds of the proceeds when the site was sold. The land was then placed into a separate vehicle called South Wharf and put on the market. The DDDA contacted Bernard McNamara about a joint bid for the site and Quinlan also came on board. They bid €412m to win the tender with more than €30m subsequently spent on cleaning up the toxic site. Coulson and his fellow South Wharf shareholders earned €273.6m from the sale. The site is now worth €50m.

DDDA-Bernard McNamara

McNamara has taken a legal action against the DDDA over the terms of the Irish Glass Bottle site deal. McNamara developed the Longboat Quay scheme in the docks.

Liam Carroll-Seán Dunne

Dunne took a legal action to stop work on the Anglo Irish Bank headquarters building after mediation efforts by him failed. He wants the part-completed structure torn down.

Seán Mulryan-Seán Dunne

Mulryan and Dunne developed much of Charlesland outside Greystones together and have significant land interests there.

DDDA-Liam Carroll

Carroll owned a significant amount of land in the docklands, redeveloping the old gasworks into an area colloquially known as Googleland; the former gasometer became an apartment block and later attempts were made to turn it into a hotel. He held talks with the DDDA in relation to a joint development of the U2 tower site and an adjoining site where he planned to develop a skyscraper, and went so far as to draw up a draft legal agreement in 2005 setting out the development plans for the sites. He planned to develop a domestic financial services centre at North Wall Quay for Anglo, AIB and Bank of Ireland but his plans fell apart when the financial crisis hit and the High Court ruled that the Anglo headquarters could not be completed.

Anglo-Bernard Mcnamara

Anglo funded several of McNamara's developments but the relationship was deeper than that. The bank held an 89% stake in office buildings at Great Minster North and Finsbury Dials in London which had "been sourced, negotiated and secured" by a company owned by McNamara, which owned the remainder. The bank bought the buildings as part of a "high-risk" property fund it set up just before the property market began to collapse.

Anglo-Liam Carroll

As well as funding the headquarters building earmarked for Anglo Irish Bank at Dublin's north docks, the bank went to Liam Carroll looking for additional space on the top of the building, only six weeks after Anglo's share price was hammered in the so-called Saint Patrick's Day massacre.


Quinlan's Quinlan Private bought the Knightsbridge Estate in London for £540m with backing from Anglo Irish Bank. Investors included McKillen and McNamara. Part of the complex is now on the market with Lafico, the company set up by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, among the bidders.

Treasury Holdings-Paddy McKillen

Johnny Ronan of Treasury and Paddy McKillen invested in a number of properties together in the early 1990s including the Temple Bar Hotel, the Treasury Building and the Pepper Canister office complex in Dublin. They also had other business interests together.

DDDA-Treasury Holdings

Treasury Holdings is involved in the Spencer Dock development in Dublin's north quays and, through the company that is developing that scheme, took a legal action against the DDDA in 2008 in relation to the planning granted for the Anglo headquarters building.


U2's Bono and the Edge, McKillen and financier Derek Quinlan own the Clarence hotel in Dublin which they planned to redevelop before shelving the project. The Edge and Quinlan also own sites in Malibu.

DDDA-Paddy McKillen, Ballymore and U2

The DDDA eventually struck a deal with developer and retailer Paddy McKillen, Seán Mulryan's Ballymore and U2 themselves to develop the U2 tower. However, the agreement now looks set to be axed after the collapse in the property market, meaning the Norman Foster-designed tower earmarked for the site may never be built.

Sunday Tribune

Boost for state’s PPP model

The National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) has said it is prepared to finance large-scale infrastructure projects through public private partnerships (PPPs), after overcoming a number of obstacles that previously curtailed its involvement in the PPP model.

The move is a boost to the government, which has been attempting to breathe life into the PPP model, which has been hit by the global credit crunch. The NPRF expects to be in a position to examine potential PPP infrastructure financing deals by the end of this year.

The NPRF manages €20 billion of funds on behalf of the government. About €7 billion of this was used to recapitalise AIB and Bank of Ireland last year. The fund is governed by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA).

The NTMA has informed the Da¤ il Public Accounts Committee that it is ‘‘keen to access PPP investments where the risk-return characteristics satisfy its statutory commercial investment mandate’’.

In correspondence with the committee at the start of this month, the NTMA said it was able to invest in the PPP model as a result of changes in the tendering process.

Sunday Business Post

Docklands executives are allowed to respond to report before publication

The publication of a report into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) is on hold while senior executives who worked in the state agency are given an opportunity to respond to criticisms of them in the document.

The report, ordered by the DDDA chairman Niamh Brennan, a corporate governance expert, is understood to contain criticisms of the way the semi-state body was run.

The DDDA reported losses of €213 million last year after disastrous property investments, which have threatened the solvency of the agency and raised the prospect of a taxpayer-bailout.

The agency’s investments included the purchase of the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend for over €412 million in a joint venture with property developer Bernard McNamara and financier Derek Quinlan.

The value of the site is now estimated at €62.5 million.

The Sunday Business Post understands that the report, commissioned from an independent consultant, does not single out particular individuals, but is critical of the operations of the agency.

The Attorney General has advised environment minister John Gormley that senior staff and executive board members of the DDDA need to be given the opportunity to comment on the report. Their responses will then be considered before the report’s publication, which is not expected until Easter.

According to sources familiar with the findings of the report, it does not speculate on the relationships between the agency and other bodies, but is highly critical of how the DDDA operated. One source said it explained how the agency operated, but not why.

The DDDA had the job of regenerating the area around the River Liffey, but also had planning powers for the area.

It is understood that the report will be critical of the arrangement whereby the authority was both developer and planning authority. The DDDA has also been criticised for conflicts of interest on its board.

Two senior directors, chairman Lar Bradshaw and Sean FitzPatrick, were on the board of Anglo Irish Bank, which was involved in financing many DDDA developments.

Sunay Business Post


Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council proposes to make a Local Area Plan for Deansgrange.

A copy of the Proposed Local Area Plan will be available for inspection from Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays) from Tuesday 23rd February, 2010 to Tuesday 6th April, 2010.

Fror all submissions and observations in respect of the Proposed Deansgrange Local Area Plan, please contact bps on 087-2615871.

Waterford County Draft Development Plan 2011 - 2017

Waterford County Council has prepared a Draft County Development Plan for the administrative area of County Waterford.

A copy of the Draft County Development Plan 2011 – 2017 and associated documents may be inspected, at the Planning Department, Civic Offices, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford; Civic Offices, Tramore, Lismore and Kilmacthomas and at all branches of the Waterford County Libraries during normal opening hours from Monday 22nd February, 2010 to Tuesday 4th May, 2010.

If you wish to make a Written Submissions or Observation, please contact bps on 087-2615871.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Charity in line to be among State's big homeowners

A HOUSING charity believes it could become one of the largest owners of residential property in the State by the end of this year.

Private housing association Respond has 5,200 houses, most of which have been built by its own company for local authorities and large housing associations.

By the end of 2010 a further 4,000 recently built houses will be bought by the Waterford-based organisation to provide high-quality, community-based housing.

The expansion plan has been brought about by a decision by the Department of the Environment, to request private housing associations produce or procure social housing instead of local authorities.

The Incremental Purchase Scheme, legislation for which has yet to be enacted, has been welcomed by Franciscan friar Fr Pat Cogan, who is managing director of Respond.

“We are being asked to take on the responsibility of providing social housing for applicants to the State.

“And we’re doing that in a formula that has never been used before in any commercial dealing, to my knowledge, particularly with the draconian Charities Act hanging over our heads,” he said, in reference to a law which makes directors of registered charities personally liable for financial losses.

“It’s exactly like futures. We have to raise the mortgage privately, over 25 years, the assumed life of the mortgage. This is not strictly underwriting. But the leasing agreement is limited to 80 per cent of the market value of rents in that area,” he explained.

Because of the economic downturn and demographic trends, Respond said Ireland could be left with a lot of vacant residential property. However, the charity said it was seeking to purchase in viable communities, not ghost estates.

Respond has gone to tender with five banks for the provision of mortgages and is in discussion with one bank.

Fr Cogan described the planned change in the provision of social housing as the most radical housing development since the foundation of the State. “Up to now, for social housing purposes, houses were always provided by the local authorities or the Department of the Environment.

“In some cases houses were being bought by the local authorities from private developers; in other cases developed directly by the local authorities.”

Some of the direct development for local authorities over the last 25 years was undertaken by Respond, which has a 350-strong team of construction workers, designers, architects and technicians.

Its first building project was the construction of sheltered housing for the elderly in Francis Court in Waterford city.

Other projects include the provision of 97 houses in Fermoy in Co Cork and at Merchant’s Quay in Carlow.

Irish Times

Building the future of justice

The Criminal Courts of Justice building is a ‘once-in-a-century’ investment. So, did the architects get it right, asks FRANK McDONALD Environment Correspondent

VERY FEW new buildings have been bathed in such publicity as the Criminal Courts of Justice. Night after night, we witnessed Michael Lillis doing the “perp walk” as he left the complex and members of the bereaved Cawley family showing solidarity with each other after another long day in Court 19.

What’s been missing so far is any acknowledgement of its architecture, despite this being one of the most significant buildings commissioned by this State – on a par with the original terminal at Dublin Airport or the Busáras. It must be judged not merely by how it functions, but by how it reflects us as a people.

In line with Celtic Tiger thinking, it was conceived by the Courts Service as a public-private partnership (PPP) project in 2004. Instead of an open architectural competition, there was a contest among consortiums, each of which had its own architect, and this was won by Amber International and contractors PJ Hegarty.

Acting for them were Henry J Lyons (HJL) architects, whose scheme pipped those of McCullough Mulvin and Dublin Spire architect Ian Ritchie when the final call was made in May 2006. And architectural quality would have been just one of the criteria used in adjudicating on the rival proposals.

Described by the Courts Service as a “once-in-a-century investment”, the Criminal Courts of Justice is actually the largest courts project undertaken in Ireland since the Four Courts was completed by James Gandon more than two centuries ago. It will be managed for a fee by the Amber consortium for 25 years, after which the State will own it.

More than half of the roughly 400,000 criminal cases dealt with annually by the Irish courts are heard in Dublin. For years, the existing judicial facilities in and around the Four Courts – including the Bridewell and the Special Criminal Court in Green Street – struggled to cope with this level of traffic. The need for a new courts complex was very real.

Circular in form, the building rises 10 storeys over basement on a site that once served as the Garda car pound at the junction of Parkgate Street and Infirmary Road. It contains 22 courtrooms – 16 of which are jury courts – 450-plus rooms altogether, a total of 25,000 sq m (269,100 sq ft) of purpose-built space.

Designing it was challenging, because of the need to provide separate circulation routes for judges, jurors, prisoners and members of the public, while also directing natural light to every courtroom. But HJL director Peter McGovern and his design team managed to pull it off with ingenuity.

They also had to provide jury retiring, assembly and dining rooms; a public cafe, accommodation for the judiciary, the Courts Service and the DPP, a new Law Library for more than 100 barristers and space for the Law Society, an Garda Síochána, the Prison Service, charitable bodies and the media as well as cells for prisoners – all on a 2.4-acre site.

Placing such a large building in an area where the general height is three storeys was a “contextual challenge”, the architect says, adding that it appears much larger from a distance than it seems up close. Had it been a “big square box”, like the new Ashling Hotel, it would have been “much more aggressive” – viewed from any angle.

WHEN THE CONCRETE structure was going up, it called to mind a medieval donjon guarding the entrance to Phoenix Park. As McGovern notes, the circle has a long-standing importance in Irish architecture, dating back to prehistoric times, and “can be traced through history as an important device in the making of place”, both at home and abroad.

He believes the circular form of the new courts complex “gives equal weight to both city and park and creates a new, more definitive threshold” between them. Although set back from the direct spatial influence of the Liffey, it also continues the tradition of placing important public buildings either on or within sight of the river frontage.

The main external feature of the building, apart from its shape, is a triple-skin facade. Saw-toothed glass panels reflect the double-height volumes of the courtrooms as well as reducing the apparent height of the building. But the anodised bronze perforated screens behind the glazing look solid from the outside, making it seem superfluous.

McGovern insists that the facade was “born out of the same rigorous attention to functionality as the building layout. The leaning or canting forward of the glass panels assists in its acoustic performance – not unlike sound recording studios where the booth is separated from the music room by two sheets of glass at different angles to each other.” He also points out that the aluminium screen performs a number of functions, including glare control. “The ‘veil’ harmonises and unifies the elevation, making a singular impression and disguising the various window opening sizes behind it. It also acts a security screen, preventing views into the courts and other rooms beyond it.” Inside, beyond the security scanners, is a vast circular atrium, eight storeys high, with solid balconies fronting wide corridors outside the courtrooms on three levels. It is, of course, inspired by the Round Hall of the Four Courts, but four times larger. A seven-storey window looks out towards Phoenix Park – intended to reinforce a sense of place.

From the upper levels, unfortunately, a surface carpark hoves into view; it would have been much better if the large window had framed trees in the park and a glimpse of Gandon’s Infirmary, now the Department of Defence. Glass bridges in front of the lifts (also glazed, in an exposed shaft) have unnerved some vertigo-prone barristers.

One of the two media rooms is windowless. “It’s horrible, and I can’t imagine any other user group working in those conditions,” says Irish Times journalist Kathy Sheridan, who spent nearly a month covering the Lillis trial. McGovern says the media were consulted, but this is disputed by newspaper management. Some improvements are now promised.

Sheridan also complains that the main stairs is difficult to find, at least for the uninitiated. But the architect points out that it’s located directly opposite the double-cantilevered staircase that rises from the Jura limestone floor of the atrium. This staircase, clad in black-stained ash, is a structural tour de force; engineers DBFL made it stand up.

During the Lillis trial, so many people wanted seats in Court 19 that there was unseemly “January Sales” congestion at the door every morning. “This was inevitable with all the media hype,” McGovern says. “But there is a court overflow room from which the proceedings in ‘sensational cases’ can be viewed by video link.” The 22 courtrooms, arranged in vertical stacks with segregated circulation routes between them, are calm, light-filled spaces with much use of walnut to convey an air of dignity.

An L-shaped screen at each custodial entrance was designed to prevent drugs being passed to prisoners by relatives or friends.

The judges, some of whom insisted on red carpets for courts rather than blue (the architects’ choice), have their own rooms on the top floor, with access to a small roof terrace planted with silver birch and pampas grass. Their lounge area has air of a gentlemen’s club. There are superb views from this level over the city, including the dome of the Four Courts.

THE “LEGAL TRIANGLE” it formed with the King’s Inn’s on Constitution Hill and the Law Society in Blackhall Place has now been broken by the new courts complex – although it is conveniently located to the Luas line at Heuston. The Courts Service and everyone involved in this €120 million project, particularly the architects, are entitled to feel chuffed. And now that the criminal courts have all relocated to Parkgate Street, the Courts Service must surely consider reopening the front door of the Four Courts, giving everyone direct access to its Round Hall once again.

Architecture by numbers

THE NEW Criminal Courts of Justice has 11 floors and contains more than 450 rooms, including 22 courts, on a site of almost 2.5 acres.

In the 18th century, the site was part of James Gandon’s Royal Military Infirmary, now occupied by the Department of Defence.

The circular building has a diameter of 75m, and its Great Hall measures some 40m, which is twice as wide as the Four Courts’ Round Hall.

About 25,000 cb m of concrete went into its construction and the bulding has 12,000 sq m of glazing.

Completed in 31 months, the building has 250 flights of stairs and 27 lifts, including several reserved for judges and jurors.

Frank McDonald
Irish Times