Another dodgy land deal

There’s a very interesting public meeting due to take place in Manorhamilton later today.

Those attending the meeting will be hoping for answers to some very curious matters concerning land deals, local politicians and developers.

It seems Leitrim County Council sold off lands to developers for a mere €100 and have now agreed to re-purchase a portion of said lands for €900,000.

As always in Ireland, this little deal was not discovered/challenged by any of the many so called regulatory bodies set up in recent years. It only came to light through the efforts of local community activist Gabriel McSharry.

Gardaí asked to investigate €11.6m land deal

Dubious goings on in Charleville:

Cork County Council has asked An Garda Síochána to investigate a land deal where the council agreed to buy 20 acres for €11.6 million at a time when the land was allegedly available for €8 million, writes Colm Keena, Public Affairs Correspondent

The Irish Times has learned that the council entered into talks over the land with two bank executives in October 2005, when the executives had not yet agreed to buy the land from property company Pushkin Developments.

Pushkin was seeking €8 million for the 20 acres of zoned land in Charleville, had engaged a selling agent, and had placed advertisements in the national press.

Permanent TSB branch manager in Cork Denis O’Reilly and Cork area branch manager Brian Cremins signed the contract with the council. They, and any partners they may have, stand to make a €3.6 million profit if the deal goes ahead. The contract for purchase was signed in April last but the sale has not been closed. It is not unusual for purchasers of property to engage in a sub-sale.

An Taisce allege political interference in West Sligo planning decision

An Taisce are not too happy in Sligo:

Major questions have been exposed on Sligo County council competence and political interference in the planning process by a refusal by An Bord Pleanala to allow a housing development go ahead in West Sligo.

That’s according to An Taisce who appealled a decision by Sligo County council to grant planning permission for a 12 house development on the N59 at Corballa.

An Bord pleanala upheld An Taisce’s appeal on the grounds that it was not happy the site would be drained satisfactorily, and that the increased traffic on the N59 would endanger public safety.

Commenting today, An Taisce spokesperson Ian Lumley said planning permission should never have been granted by Sligo county council in the first place.

He also said the vested interests of individual landowners are being put before public health and safety risks by Sligo county councillors.

Planning board’s Lough Key decision is ‘bizarre’

For once a developer says he has a problem with planning:

The developer of a proposed ecotourism project in the Lough Key forest park in Co Roscommon has described An Bord Pleanala’s decision to block the scheme as ‘‘bizarre’’.

Brian Dobbin, chief executive of the Newfound Group, said it appeared that ‘‘a small minority’’ was in control of development planning in Ireland. The group had applied for permission to build 300 holiday homes, a 100-suite hotel with spa and conference facilities, and a golf course in and around the Lough Key park.

It already operates the Humber Valley resort in Newfoundland and is building two schemes in the Caribbean. Roscommon County Council granted permission for the Lough Key scheme, but objectors – including An Taisce and the Department of the Environment – appealed to An Bord Pleanala.

Bree claims planning granted after ‘letters from Fianna Fail’

Ructions in Sligo Council:

Despite recommendations from council planners that permission be refused for construction of a dwelling house, permission was granted following a letter to the council from Senator Eamon Scanlon and Clr. Albert Higgins.

So claimed Clr. Declan Bree at Monday’s meeting of the council which ended abruptly when the county manager and council staff walked out after the manager had warned he would not tolerate a personal attack on a staff member.

I have heard of this type of behaviour, where the recommendations of planners are completely ignored, all too often.

[Hat tip Simon]

Centre for Public Inquiry has ceased its work

The Centre for Public Inquiry has decided to close. As reported in several papers on Monday, Fergus Flood said there was “no alternative”. There were also allegations that Treasury Holdings was threatening legal action against the CPI and its members if a report was published naming them, in relation to the Dublin Port Company (DPC) deal. The Sunday Times reported:

The CPI began an investigation into property transactions in Dublin’s docklands, including a deal involving the Dublin Port Company (DPC), and other developments including Treasury Holdings’ joint venture with CIE on Spencer Dock.

The government has already come under pressure to explain why the state-owned DPC, chaired by former councillor Joe Burke, a political associate of Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach, did not go through a tender procedure before entering into a joint venture with private operators to develop a 32-acre site.

An apparent source at the CPI also noted:

“Various interesting operations are in progress which will never see the light of day because people are afraid to be sued for libel.”

Galway council to take action over quarry

Lorna Siggins at the Irish Times notes an interesting planning story from Galway:

Galway city councillors voted unanimously last month to halt all works at the company’s Coolough site, several miles from the city centre, and the latest action by the council is due to be discussed tonight by the council.

A report circulated to councillors by the local authority late last week said that the company had quarried to a depth of 2.48m (10ft) below the 15-metre Ordnum Datum levels approved in the planning conditions.

She continues:

Galway City Council told The Irish Times that it could not respond to a series of questions before Monday’s report to the full council. However, a spokesman said that the local authority did not have any “sweetheart deal” with Lackagh Quarries, and all contracts for materials were subject to full public procurement proceedings.

Revised plans for Cork housing project

I know this area well. The roads around Dunkettle are already heavily congested, putting in another 600 houses with the current road system would make traffic levels chronic. But O’Flynn wants to carry on regardless, we will have to wait and see on this one.

He said that given that the roads issue raised by An Bord Pleanala related specifically to the immediate area, Mr O’Flynn’s request for a meeting “will be arranged in the context of normal pre-planning discussions”.

The proposal by O’Flynn Construction also included plans to build an equestrian centre and a retail outlet adjoining the protected Dunkathel House and a garden centre, but these were deemed unacceptable and inappropriate by An Bord Pleanala.

Among the third parties to the appeal was Glounthaune Community Association.

It has welcomed the decision, particularly the planning board’s concerns that the project would have provided insufficient facilities while affecting the area’s amenities.

“This is a watershed decision for all communities in Cork in their stand against unsustainable suburbanisation,” said an association spokeswoman.

“We are not anti-development,” she added, “but we’re encouraged by this decision in continuing our efforts to consult and work with developers and the planning authority and are happy to participate in any future consultation process.”

Cahir Castle hotel plan rejected

A vivid reminder of the Trim castle controversy. It strikes me as odd that the council approved the plan in the first place.

The plan also included the demolition of the mill and the construction of 15 “aparthotel” suites, restaurants, a bar and lounge, and 44 apartments in a separate four-storey block.

The council’s approval was appealed to An Bord Pleanala by An Taisce and local residents.

The board said that the site, on an inside bend of the River Suir, was of unique sensitivity and national importance because of its proximity to Cahir Castle and its position in an architectural conservation area.

It ruled that the proposed development would adversely affect the settings of the castle and the character of the conservation area because of the excessive height, scale and bulk of the hotel.

It would “fail to achieve an appropriate scale in relation to the castle”, the board said.

Reynolds to be questioned on land purchase

Another former Taoiseach will appear before a Tribunal, Longford’s Albert Reynolds this time:

Tribunal lawyers say Mr Reynolds was a principal in a Guernsey-based company, Universal Management Consultants Ltd, which entered into negotiations to buy the lands in 1997.

The co-owner of UMC was Patrick Russell, a barrister who represents the late Liam Lawlor at the tribunal.

Four years earlier, the owners of the land, Rayband Ltd, had succeeded in having it rezoned from agriculture to light industry.

In 1997, Mr Russell proposed acquiring the land through a joint venture between UMC and a Derry-based building firm, O’Neill Brothers, according to yesterday’s statement by senior counsel Patricia Dillon, for the tribunal.

Mr Russell has told the tribunal that Tim Collins, a land scout with an architectural practice who introduced Frank Dunlop to Rayband, acted on behalf of Rayband and claimed to own 10 per cent of the development.

Mr Collins, who is a long-time associate of Bertie Ahern and a trustee of his constituency office, has denied Mr Russell’s claim. Documentation suggests he was to be paid up to £50,000 as a “contribution to landlord’s expenses” on closing the sale.

The joint-venture agreement provided for a payment of stg£600,000 (€869,500) by O’Neill Brothers to buy out an undisclosed “minority interest” in the site.