Monday 6 September 2010

Bord Pleanala denies conflict of interest in Dublin development

AN Bord Pleanala says it sees no conflict of interest in a board member granting planning permission for a development, even though he worked for one of the companies involved until 2007.

Conall Boland overturned Senior Planning Inspector Dermot Kelly's recommendation to deny permission for a 600-unit apartment complex on a Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, golf course last month.

Before being appointed to An Bord Pleanala, Mr Boland worked for the engineering consultancy firm RPS as its technical director.

RPS worked for developers Cosgrave Brothers on the golf course site.

In his report, Mr Kelly wrote that the project "would result in overdevelopment of the site in the form of large apartment blocks to an excessive height and scale which would be visually obtrusive and seriously injurious to the amenities of adjacent two-storey residential properties."

Mr Boland rejected the report and reversed Mr Kelly's decision to refuse permission.

Mr Boland's decision to over-ride the inspector's report and grant permission was described as "shocking" by local resident association member, Ms Gene Feighery.

"It was granted permission, despite the recommendations of their own inspector who, more or less, upheld residents' concerns in the interest of proper planning and sustainable development for the area."

A spokesman for An Bord Pleanala emphatically denied there was a conflict of interest in the case.

He said it was a "matter of public record" that Mr Boland worked for RPS Consulting until 2007 when he took up his planning authority position.

He agreed that it was known, before the inspector's report was given to Mr Boland, that he had worked for RPS and agreed RPS had worked for the developers.

Asked if it might be seen by some people that a conflict of interest issue arose, he replied: "That is a matter of opinion."

The development has attracted a considerable amount of controversy since Cosgrave Brothers bought the 78-acre site in 2002, in a deal reportedly worth €100m.

Councillors in Dun Laoghaire voted against re-zoning the golf course land for development but their decision was overturned when Environment Minister Martin Cullen ordered the land rezoned in 2004.

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council also signed a contract with Cosgrave Brothers to buy the "social and affordable" element of the development, at the height of the property boom, and are now saddled with a bill of almost €36m for 143 apartments which are now empty.

The council-agreed price put the value of the apartments at around €270,000.

There are 3,000 half-built or empty apartments in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council area, and many will be reduced to bargain prices when NAMA begins disposing of developers' assets.

Sunday Independent

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