Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Golden Fleece: Ballsbridge, Property Shakedowns, Nimbies, Developers and Selfless Politicians

The decision of members of Dublin County Council to reject a local area plan for Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, that provided for the building of high-rise buildings of up to 20 storeys, has been presented as a success against a developer-dictated plan that was drawn up by the executive of the Council.

Much of the power of councillors was taken away from them almost a century ago to reduce corruption. The main power that was left was in respect of rezoning land.

In recent decades, because of the big jump in the value of development land compared with its agricultural value, land has become the crack cocaine addiction for Irish politicians.

It's not that land is scarce in Ireland, it's just that there is an artificial scarcity created and what property obsessed Irishman would want to contemplate living in a sinkhole like Switzerland, where the real cost of residential property, hasn't increased since 1970!

The Celts came from the area of modern Switzerland and contrary to what we would like to believe, they never bothered to visit or invade Ireland.

We can't blame the Celts for our contemporary obsession with property, but attributing it to the English landlord system of feudalism that operated in Ireland until the 1880's, is also off the mark. When farmers near Irish towns become multimillionaires through making bonanzas from development, they have no qualms about becoming landlords.

A planning corruption tribunal has been sitting since late 1997 and it has effectively been operating in a parallel universe. After almost a decade of revelations of politicians for hire, ZERO has been done to change the existing system.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that any changes in the existing system may conflict with the Constitution.

It's absolute rubbish and as with the story that up to €4.6bn of the €18.5bn of taxpayers' money that will be spent on new main roads over the next decade will go into the pockets of landowners, nothing is done about it.

Fred Barry, chief executive of the National Roads Authority is reported as saying that the increases in the cost of land for major roads projects as "disturbing". Land acquisition accounts for 23% of the cost of roads projects in Ireland, but just 12% in England, 10% in Denmark, 9.4% in Greece and 1% in Iceland. A further 2% of the €18.5bn provided in the Government's Transport 21 for road building over the next decade will go to archaeologists.

Six years ago, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern asked the Committee on the Constitution to examine the issue of the pricing of development land. In 2004, it concluded that Mr Justice Kenny's recommendation in 1973 that development land should be priced with a 25% mark-up on agricultural land prices, could be introduced by legislation, and without amending the Constitution.

So, after almost ten years of stories of endemic corruption and what changes have been made in the system that spawned it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

The cost of the tribunal is an issue but as usual with politicians who lack the appetite to challenge vested interests, the most pertinent issue is conveniently ignored.Are there journalists who can connect the dots rather than be led up the garden path?

Stamp duty is an easier topic to sell to the masses rather than the Golden Fleece from land.

...and we've had a system of free education since 1968!

Our planning system has moved on from brown envelopes but anyone who believes that corruption has ended, is a fool.

Besides inducements for politicians, there are the shakedowns that are involved in so many developments.

There is seldom any Irish development without a shakedown and it is often a residents' association that is seeking some payoff - maybe a wall to be built or some other amenity - that the local authority hasn't bothered providing.

There are Nimbies (Not in My Back Yard) everywhere, whether it is in Mayo in respect of the Corrib gas field or in Dublin's most expensive thoroughfare - Shrewsbury Road, Dublin 4.

The default impression that developers had, that hotels, pubs or other amenities could be knocked and the sites rezoned, was overdue a slapdown.

However, the reaction of councillors to the local area plan for Ballsbridge, more likely relates to the power of wealthy Nimbies than a new dawn for Irish planning.

Developer Sean Dunne's Mountbrook Homes which paid €379 million for the Jurys, Jurys Tower and Berkeley Court hotel sites, is one of a number of developers who have been seeking zoning changes. Another developer, Ray Grehan of Glenkerrin Homes, paid €171.5m for the former UCD Veterinary College site, which is adjacent to the Berkeley Hotel site. Other developers with holdings in the area include Bernard McNamara, who owns Carrisbrook House on the corner of Northumberland Road.

After pre-planning discussions with the developers, the council decided to recommend the inclusion of mixed-use local centre buildings with a height of up to 12 storeys and district centre buildings with a height of up to 20 storeys. Retail elements would have been restricted to 10,000 sq m.

Assistant city manager Michael Stubbs is reported to have said that it could be a year before the matter is revisited, as the council's next priority was to advance area plans for Phibsboro and then Rathmines.

Both Sean Dunne and Ray Grehan purchased their Ballsbridge sites in 2005 when the European Central Bank's key interest rate was 2% by the time a compromise is reached in 2008, never mind planning approval granted, the ECB rate may well be 5%.

Dublin has become an urban sprawl because of an over-reaction to the experience of a high-rise multi-block public housing that was built in Ballymun in North Dublin in the 1960's.

What is very interesting about the Ballsbridge development that it is not only about a developer seeking to change zoning classification for his hotel sites, which are currently solely residential, but Dunne is also one of the prominent Nimbies in Ballsbridge!

Earlier this year, a High Court judge was reported to have accused millionaire developer Sean Dunne of making a ‘‘spurious’’ complaint about a proposed development near his Dublin 4 home.

Dunne and solicitor Stephen MacKenzie were seeking a judicial review of An Bord Pleanala’s decision to grant planning permission for a three-storey block of seven apartments and underground car park, in Shrewsbury Road.

The development by O’Malley Construction involved demolishing the buildings on the site of the former Chester Beatty Library. The two men complained that An Bord Pleanala had failed to give reasons for its decision, particularly considering the unique character of Shrewsbury Road, which had been designated a residential conservation area.

An Bord Pleanala’s documentation on the issue, refers to Dunne as "Third Third Party Sean Dunne":

Previous decision: The appellant refers to An Bord Pleanala’s recent refusal of permission for development on the site. He states that there has been no change in policy in the meanwhile which would warrant a different decision on the current application which it is contended differs in minor respect only.

This appeal raises similar issues to the Mc Evaddy and Mc Kenzie appeals in relation to zoning, density, height, bulk, scale, precedent and procedure (defective public notice).

Traffic, parking, and traffic hazard issues are also raised.

So the Irish planning system is a minefield of Nimbies and politicians seeking shakedowns and developers who can be both innocent and guilty parties in the ramshackle system.


Whitaker's Ireland and the planned destruction of two of Dublin's premier hotels

Ballsbridge Nimbies Hit the Jackpot from Lansdowne Stadium Development