Wednesday 15 December 2010

Oral hearing on Corrib gas pipeline could be reopened

AN BORD Pleanála has said it is considering a request from a north Mayo community group to reopen the oral hearing into the Corrib gas pipeline.

The request was sent to the board late this week by community group Pobal Chill Chomáin, which is opposed to the new pipeline route on health, safety and environmental grounds.

The group’s spokesman John Monaghan said the request had been made because of what he claims to be serious irregularities in further information supplied by the lead developer, Shell EP Ireland (SEPIL), to the Department of the Environment for a foreshore licence application on October 26th.

The information for the foreshore application for a new pipeline route up Sruwaddacon estuary was submitted more than three weeks after the closure of An Bord Pleanála’s resumed oral hearing into the pipeline application – but differs significantly in some important details, Mr Monaghan said.

“This indicates that SEPIL have identified weaknesses in their own application that – worryingly – did not give rise to concerns from the authorities, including An Bord Pleanála,” his community group said.

“Much of the information provided recently was withheld from the planning hearings by both the Department of Energy and SEPIL, but is being presented as forming part of the planning process,” the group said.

“Clear references are made to the Health and Safety Authority (whose input was absent from the planning hearings) and to fundamental issues such as public safety, housing proximity and land-use planning,” the group said in its letter to the board.

“We are also drawing the board’s attention to the great disparity between SEPIL’s assertions in the new information given to the Department of the Environment, and their evidence on the very same issues given at the planning hearings in 2009 and 2010,” the group said.

It said it believed there was a real danger the board’s deliberations would “result in a project that has escaped full and proper scrutiny” unless the oral hearing was reopened.

An Bord Pleanála said it would consider the matter but could make no further comment at present.

It had been due to make a final ruling on the pipeline by the end of this year, along with a decision on compulsory acquisition orders for land.

Shell EP Ireland has confirmed that the further information was forwarded to the Department of the Environment’s foreshore section.

Irish Times

Planning application dropped for radio mast at Bray Garda station

CO WICKLOW residents have claimed a breakthrough after the Office of Public Works confirmed it would no longer seek planning permission for commercial telecommunications equipment on a radio mast at Bray Garda station.

The OPW built a 32-metre mast at the Garda station early in 2007 claiming a planning exemption for such equipment. Under a deal with the State’s mobile operators 02, Vodafone and 3, the OPW then allowed mobile phone antennae, cabinets and cables to be installed there.

The mast, located in the southwest corner of the Garda station grounds, replaced a smaller version at the northern end of the property, which had carried only Garda equipment.

However, local residents expressed outrage that the new, higher mast was within metres of their homes and asked Bray Town Council to determine whether the structure was exempt from planning permission.

“We were told by the council that in fact it was exempt,” said Michael Murray who, along with others, decided to challenge that view. They sought a determination from Bord Pleanála which decided the structure was not, after all, exempt development.

The board found that while the State did agree a planning exemption for Garda masts, and mobile phone companies were allowed to benefit from this exemption, the exemption had limitations.

It ruled that under Telecommunications Antennae and Support Guidelines for local authorities published in 1996, telecommunications infrastructure should be located where possible in industrial estates or on industrially zoned land. The guidelines said that “only as a last resort and if the alternatives are either unavailable or unsuitable, should free-standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools”.

Following the determination by the board, the telecom companies applied to Bray Town Council for planning permission, but this was refused on the grounds the structure would be visually obtrusive and intrusive.

The telecoms companies appealed the decision to Bord Pleanála but the planning inspector found that while sharing was generally acceptable, it was not acceptable to “load” one mast “if there is potential to adversely impact the amenities of the properties in the vicinity”.

Irish Times

Metro North manager says project has broad support

THERE WAS a broad public and political consensus behind Metro North and a new government was unlikely to halt it, the project manager claimed yesterday.

Answering questions at an Engineers Ireland seminar on tunnelmaking, Rob Leech said he did not believe Metro North would become “like Lima” in Peru.

In Lima, he explained, the government had spent heavily on enabling works for new railways but the project had been suspended, with the result that people had made houses out of the viaducts.

Mr Leech also dismissed what a speaker referred to as the “Edinburgh situation”, a reference taken to mean the delivery and display of trams for a new light-rail system for that city some years before the completion of the tram line.

About €135 million has already been spent on enabling works and planning for Metro North and the Railway Procurement Agency said yesterday that €45 million had been provided for it in the Budget. This brings the total spend on Metro North to almost €200 million before the project has received Government approval.

Both Fine Gael and Labour refused to give an absolute commitment to the project yesterday, claiming such a move would be “irresponsible” before assuming office and seeing the full costs.

Simon Coveney of Fine Gael said the party would like to see the project completed, but had reservations about money being spent before a final decision.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore also refused to commit the party to the project in advance of the financial cost. A party spokesman said, however, that any money spent on “enabling works” would not be wasted as it would “still be there in five of six years time”.

Asked if uncertainty surrounding final approval and compulsory purchase orders could result in “an economic corridor from St Stephen’s Green to Swords being sterilised” for the best part of 10 years, Mr Leech said he did not think so.

Contracts for significant enabling works would be awarded early next year. “Until we sign the public-private partnership we can’t say the project will go the full way . . . but it is a note of confidence that the Government said it will support enabling works over the next year or so.”

He said the agency had met Opposition transport spokesmen and “Labour and Fine Gael were broadly supportive” of the project.

A note of caution was sounded by Tim Brick, executive director of the Irish Academy of Engineering. He warned that public consultation by way of An Bord Pleanála and environmental assessments had failed to win public support in a wide range of projects from the Shell to Sea campaign to the Dublin Port Tunnel.

As a former deputy city engineer responsible for the Dublin Port Tunnel, he said valuable experience of tunnelling and the physical work had been gained, but formalised public consultation through environmental impact statements and planning was not achieving consensus.

“Anyone who thinks building civic consensus, public relations and direct and media contact with the public are a project add-on is mistaken.”

Mr Brick said experience with the Dublin tunnel had thought him “the media obsession with controversy must be suborned and contested. If you are in the headlines, the news is usually bad and the media appetite insatiable.”

Irish Times

Metro North still on track, says director

THE Metro to Dublin Airport can be bankrolled by private cash and is still on track, the project's director claimed yesterday.

Despite the restraints on finances, the Metro is still economically viable, he said.

Rob Leech, Metro North project manager, told an Engineers Ireland seminar that high-quality integrated public transport was a key feature of the most successful cities worldwide. He said there had been "some extraordinary claims that it would cost €5bn to build Metro North".

"Even at the height of the boom it would have cost far less than that," he added.

At a time of falling construction costs they expected to get unprecedented value.

Metro North was being developed under a public private partnership arrangement. This means the private sector initially funds the majority of the costs.

The State contributes in two ways -- a part contribution to the construction cost and later annual payments, spread over a long period of time, payable only when the metro is running.

John Power, Engineers Ireland director general, predicted Metro North had the potential to create 4,000 direct jobs and a further 2,000 indirect jobs.

Treacy Hogan
Irish Independent

Thursday 9 December 2010

Council backs extra homes for Greystones

CHANGES TO a €300 million Greystones harbour redevelopment in Co Wicklow have been referred to An Bord Pleanála.

The changes proposed by Wicklow County Council and its private sector partner, Sispar consortium, would see the number of new homes in the scheme increase to 375, while the commercial space in the development would rise to 6,245sq m.

The original permission by An Bord Pleanála in August 2007 provided for 341 apartments and 5,500sq m of commercial space.

Sispar has said the additional apartments and commercial space are necessary given changed market conditions.

Sispar has invested more than €80 million in the project so far, principally in a new harbour which includes space for a 230-berth marina.

Other public facilities include new clubhouses for existing harbour users, a new town square, a public park and a beach.

Sispar, which has confirmed loans associated with the project have been transferred to Nama, said it planned to complete the project if the changes were approved.

Work on the next phase is scheduled to get under way early next year. Hoardings which have been in place for almost three years could start to come down late next year.

Earlier this year, the council approved a change in the scheme under which a block of apartments was altered to include a medical centre.

The change was made under part eight of the Planning and Development Act which provides for public consultation but does not provide for an appeal.

Yesterday councillors approved by 13 votes to four a second change in the scheme under which the additional houses and alterations to the commercial space would be made.

The latest changes were also made under part eight of the planning Act which provides for public consultation but does not provide for an appeal process.

Part eight is a section frequently used by local authorities when they are seeking planning permission for developments that do not require an environmental impact assessment.

However, council spokesman Seán Quirke said the use of the part eight process on this occasion had already been referred to An Bord Pleanála by “two individuals” who made submissions during the public consultation process.

Mr Quirke said An Bord Pleanála would now have to adjudicate on whether the use of part eight by the council was appropriate.

Fine Gael councillor Derek Mitchell, who has been closely associated with the project, said yesterday he believed the use of part eight was justified.

Mr Mitchell, who signed the original contracts on behalf of the council, said the important thing now was that the scheme would not stop.

He said the change from apartments to medical centre would have support from Nama and would assist in ongoing financing of the project.

Irish Times

Local government budget cut by 27%

The overall Environment and Local Government budget is taking a hit of 27 per cent from almost €2.2 billion in 2010 to just under €1.6 billion. The largest cuts are to investment in infrastructure with the capital budget cut by more than half a billion to just over €1 billion.

The largest element of capital funding, the capital housing fund, will bare the brunt of these cuts. Used for the provision of social housing, local authority regeneration programmes and grants for elderly or disable people to adapt their homes, it has been cut by more than one third from €880 million in 2010 to €520 million.

The cuts weight heaviest in capital funding for the provision of new social housing which will more than halve next year from €550,500 in 2010 to just €247,000, reflecting the policy shift away from building to leasing houses for council tenants.

In an attempt to encourage more council tenants to buy their houses, the discount available under the tenant purchase scheme has been increased from a maximum of 30 per cent to 45 per cent for next year only.

Local authorities will see direct exchequer funding fall by 28 per cent from more than €226 million to €164. Revenue for motor tax will mean that local authorities will face a total Local Government Fund cut of 10 to 12 per cent. While city and county councils are benefiting from the second homes tax, the new funding streams such as the primary residence property tax and domestic water rates will not kick in next year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is having its funding cut by 27 per cent to just under €20 million, while funding for heritage organisations such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Heritage Trust and the Heritage Council is down a total of 60 per cent to €22.5 million.

Funding for the planning and development sector is, predictably down by 37 per cent. However An Bord Pleanála is taking one of the smallest cuts of any agency, down just 2 per cent to €12,829 million.

Irish Times

Cut to funds for home energy efficiency

GRANTS FOR householders to make their homes more energy efficient will be scrapped from next year and replaced with a tax credit system.

The maximum value of the credit is set at €2,000. Householders previously could avail of grants in excess of €5,000.

The Environment and Local Government budget is taking a hit of 27 per cent from almost €2.2 billion in 2010 to just under €1.6 billion. The largest cuts are to investment in infrastructure, with the capital budget down by more than half a billion to just over €1 billion.

The largest element of capital funding, the housing fund, will bare the brunt of these cuts. Used for the provision of social housing, local authority housing regeneration, and grants for elderly or disabled people to adapt their homes, it has been cut by more than one-third from €880 million in 2010 to €520 million.

The cuts weigh heaviest in capital funding for the provision of new social housing, which will more than halve next year from €550 million to just €247 million.

Local authorities will see direct exchequer funding fall by 28 per cent from more than €226 million to €164 million. However, revenue from motor tax will mean councils will face a total Local Government Fund cut of 10 to 12 per cent.

Funding to the Environmental Protection Agency is being cut by 27 per cent to just under €20 million, and funding for heritage organisations such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Heritage Trust and the Heritage Council is down a total of 60 per cent to €22.5m. An Bord Pleanála is down just 2 per cent to €12.8m.

Irish Times

Oh Ambassador, you're spoiling the neighbourhood

In leafy, exclusive Dublin 4, embassies with plans for expansion must keep neighbouring residents’ groups sweet

NEWS that the Belgian Embassy is likely to go ahead with plans to move its operations from Shrewsbury Road to its ambassador’s residence on Ailesbury Road in Dublin 4 will have residents of both roads nervous that their genteel world is about to be disrupted.

The move will leave yet another gaping hole on Shrewsbury Road, where a number of properties lie empty, including Walford, the property bought by Séan Dunne for €56 million at the height of the boom, and a number of others, including 1 and 3 Shrewsbury Road, owned by Derek Quinlan.

Over on Ailesbury Road, residents will be bracing themselves for the upheaval caused by the dust and noise of construction and the increase in embassy personnel coming to and from the Belgian property.

The Belgian embassy, which currently rents Shrewsbury House, at 2 Shrewsbury Road says it is likely to proceed with its plan next year to move its entire operation to 44-46 Ailesbury Road, the Belgian embassy residence.

It got planning permission several years ago for four small buildings to the rear of the house on Ailesbury Road which will be used as chancery offices

The Belgian embassy is only the latest in a series of embassies looking to streamline its operations and build 21st-century office accommodation.

More than half the foreign embassies in Dublin are located in Ballsbridge – 29 out of 52 – because it’s close to the city centre yet the exclusivity of its streets affords a certain amount of security and privacy.

On the downside, however, upgrading or expanding a premises in the area is not an easy process. Wikileaks aren’t the only thing that the world of diplomacy has to contend with. Behind every quiet, leafy, exclusive residential street in the embassy belt of Dublin 4 is a formidable residents group ready to mobilise at the first sign that a foreign government is planning a development that could disturb the status quo

The prospect of possible future battles with residents doesn’t seem to put them off locating there. An estate agent told us that four non-EU embassies are currently looking at property on Shrewsbury Road with a view to buying, taking advantage of the plummet in property prices.

While some of the wealthy property developer denizens of Ballsbridge have left the area (some amid a blaze of publicity), there remains a strong band of long-term residents who are well acquainted with the planning laws and who are tiring of the constant stream of activity in and out of some embassies.

Resident power prevailed in October when an attempt by Pennyvale Property Limited to get planning permission for embassy use for a large detached house at Fintragh, 11 Shrewsbury Road, was refused by Dublin City Council on the grounds that it was an unsuitable development in a conservation area.

Resident Anne Neary, a solicitor, commented in her submission to the council that she believed the real intention was to get commercial office use for the building. “The very word embassy conjures up an image in the mind’s eye of a family home of an ambassador and his or her family with the occasional formal social affair in the evening and a sedate office presence,” says Neary.

“Just because someone sticks the title ‘ambassador’ on the door of a small back office on the upper floor does not turn it into an embassy.”

Ailesbury Road residents’ assocation came across just such a scenario last year when Derek Quinlan attempted to convert a house at 43 Ailesbury Road from embassy use to office use. Quinlan subsequently lost a High Court challenge to An Bord Pleanála’s refusal of permission for the scheme. Counsel for an Bord Pleanála commented in court that the fact that there was already permission for embassy use “was not a springboard” to a different use.

Nuala Johnson, a resident who opposed Quinlan, refused to comment on the Belgian embassy development except to say the residents are on “good terms with the embassy” who have been “very co-operative”. She said however, they are vigilant “if there’s a demand for that” and have been keeping an eye on developments for the past 12 years.

The association wasn’t so reticent last year when the owner of 47 Ailesbury Road – where the Romanian Embassy is located – sought to have the dwelling changed to embassy use. “There are already a number of embassy offices/chancelleries which would be more appropriately situated in a commercial district,” was their observation to An Bord Pleanála.

Next door neighbour Dr John Crowe complained in his appeal that a number of embassies, including the Chinese and Polish, attracted “significant pedestrian and vehicular movements including queuing, protests, polling and tarmacking of gardens to increase parking”. The board subsequently ruled in favour of the embassy development.

Meanwhile, around the corner on Merrion Road, local residents have been scrutinising plans by the Indian Government for a consulate at 69 Merrion Road, which is now at pre-planning stage. It involves building a cultural centre and a 186sq m (2,000sq ft) staff quarters that would usurp the rear garden of the Victorian semi-detached house. The intensification of the site and the addition of a large extension to accomodate a lift shaft and stairs to the back of the house is of major concern to the neighbours who say they intend to contest the scheme fully.

The Indian government bought the two-storey over basement redbrick in 2008 for a figure thought to be around €4.75 million.

While most of the countries opening embassies here still favour residential streets in upmarket south Dublin suburbs, a number have opted for modern office premises in the south city centre, such as the Brazilian Embassy in the Harcourt Centre, Charlotte Way, the Slovenian Embassy on Nassau Street and the Australian and Canadian embassies both on Wilton Terrace. The Japanese run their embassy business out of a modest office above the Merrion Shopping Centre.

John O’Sullivan of Lisney says embassies’ budgets vary and quite a few rent “because they can’t justify buying a property here”.

“The ones opening offices here are mostly emerging or non-EU countries who now have a lot of citizens in the country and require an embassy. Many of the European nations no longer require a presence in each country.”

This is certainly the case for Sweden which closed its office in Dublin earlier this year and moved its ambassador to Ireland back to Stockholm.

In a reversal of the trend in Dublin 4 for residents to object to embassy developments, the Canadian ambassador, whose residence is on Oakley Road in Ranelagh, Dublin 6, is objecting to a planning application by Scoil Bhríde next door to extend its classrooms because of overlooking and an increase in illegal parking by parents collecting children from school.

The ambassador may be wishing that his country hadn’t sold Strathmore, the Killiney estate on nine acres, in 2007. It had been the ambassador’s residence for more than 50 years. It was sold as part of a Canadian initative to downsize its embassies around the world. Another reason given was that it was too far from the city centre. But it was also blissfully removed from the headaches that having neighbours entails.

Irish Times

Judge criticises plan for houses in Galway

A HIGH Court judge has described as very difficult to understand Galway County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a housing estate outside Kinvara town on a blind corner on a main road to Ballyvaughan and the Burren area.

It had been proposed to build 31 houses on a main road with a 100km/h speed limit and the council’s permission also extended a town in an unplanned manner in an important tourist area, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said.

The development would have resulted in the blind movement, in terms of sight lines for traffic, of many vehicle journeys to and from “this suburban-type estate”.

It was difficult to see why the court should be required to authorise a public danger or to quash a well-reasoned decision of An Bord Pleanála which overturned the council’s grant of permission, he said.

Mr Justice Charleton yesterday dismissed developer Brian McMahon’s challenge to the board’s November 2009 refusal of permission. The judge also rejected arguments that the High Court, if it finds defects in the procedures leading to the making of planning decisions, has then no discretion but to quash those decisions.

The board had very strong reasons for its refusal of permission, including its view that the proposed development would imperil traffic safety, subject the water table to potentially life-threatening contamination or further despoil the countryside with suburban development.

Local authority planning departments were not entitled to ignore the central principle of planning law – the proper planning and sustainable development of an area, he said. The “priceless heritage of generations of work within the countryside, as reflected in our landscape and in the separation of town from rural areas, has been an invaluable economic resource since the foundation of the State,” he said.

Tourism was attracted by the very environment the planning code was designed to foster and protect and the obligation to plan for sustainable development must take into account the nation’s need for revenue from this vital industry, the judge added.

In his judicial review proceedings, Mr McMahon had argued the board was required to inquire whether a statutory acknowledgment by the council of a submission to it against the development by two local objectors, Seán Forde and Jane Joyce, who live beside the proposed development site, was valid on its face.

The couple’s submission was made outside the legal time limits, but the council sent them a formal acknowledgment. When the couple later appealed against the grant of permission to An Bord Pleanála, they enclosed that acknowledgment among their documents as they were required to under planning laws.

Mr McMahon had argued the board should have inquired into the validity of the acknowledgment, but Mr Justice Charleton ruled the board did not have authority under the 2000 Act to make any legal analysis of steps conducted in pursuit of a planning application by a local authority.

Irish Times