Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 12 October, 2006
Adjournment Debate. - Planning Issues.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan:Ongoing media reports about the sale by Dublin City Council of 23 acres of land in the area of Balgriffin, Clare Hall and Belmayne in the Dublin North-East constituency have raised serious concerns locally which must be addressed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The lands are part of the massive new urban district called the north fringe, which is being created in this constituency and which may ultimately contain more than 20,000 housing units and a major ancillary commercial development around a new city boulevard running from Coolock to the sea at Baldoyle and Portmarnock.
Concerns were originally expressed about this sale at the Dublin North-Central area committee of Dublin City Council. The then city managers, Mr. John Fitzgerald and Mr. Sean Carey, informed members that the original sale price was  €48 million. When city councillors queried the reasons for this sale and the price, they were informed the sale was necessary to ensure a new city plaza and linkage to the new east-west central boulevard could be created quickly, since the prospective purchasers, Stanley Holdings, already owned some of the lands necessary to create this important public realm. The city council was also informed last July that the funds realised by the sale would be ploughed back into public facilities of all kinds in thenorth fringe and in Dublin North-East generally.
Despite these assurances, it has emerged that an independent valuation report on these lands, commissioned by Lisney Auctioneers for the city council, was never published or made known to councillors before they approved a managerial report on the sale. This is an extraordinary state of affairs and another typical example of the need for a root and branch reform of local government. How could city councillors possibly do their job when they did not know the real value of the land? I call for the new city manager, Mr. John Tierney, to publish immediately the valuation of the Balgriffin and Clare Hall lands which was prepared by Lisney Auctioneers. It has been alleged the city council’s chief valuer at that time has moved to new employment with Lisney Auctioneers.
A key difficulty with this sale from the time it first became known is that there was no open public tender process. The earlier city managers had reported that because part of the site was landlocked from some of the new road developments, the sale price would have been driven steeply down by going to public tender. However, the original north fringe master plan signally failed even to outline the general uses of most of this district, including the 23 acres in question. That was one reason I strongly opposed that area action plan in the late 1990s until it was forced through the city council by outgoing city manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald, defeating a motion in my name calling for a new detailed mixed density master plan with a range of community and public transport facilities.
It emerged recently that the original commitment to sell these lands last June included an uplift clause, allowing the city council to renegotiate a higher price which could be exercised any time up to March 2007. The city council triggered this clause recently and secured a new higher sale price of €60.4 million. City officials are also claiming there will be additional public realm costs of €7 million in favour of the council when the new Clare Hall plaza and boulevard is built. However, with six months to go in the timeframe of the uplift clause and with no end to steadily escalating property values on the north side, many of my constituents still wonder if €60.4 million represents full value for these lands and whether they would be worth €100 million by next March.  In an earlier debate in this House on affordable housing, the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, stated the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, provided this land to Dublin City Council for affordable and social housing. For that reason, the sale of this land should be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, who should then report on it to the Committee of Public Accounts.
A key failure of local and national government in the development of the north fringe lands is the serious lack of joined up planning and public accountability. The three main developers, Ballymore Homes, Gannon Homes and Shannon Homes, accounting for up to 12,000 housing units alone, have never been the subject of a detailed urban master plan prepared jointly by Dublin City and Fingal County Councils. There have been planning applications, but there has never been a detailed plan. The plan put repeatedly before Dublin City Council was only for part of the city council area of the fringe and is based on vague aspirations and principles which are turning out to be a developers’ heaven as they go for ever increasing densities. At the same time, there is almost no public accountability. I proposed the creation of the north fringe forum which was accepted by the then city manager, Mr. Fitzgerald, and which held its tenth meeting last Tuesday and is composed of residents, public representatives and stakeholders. However, the forum is powerless and just an interested talking shop.
For these reasons and because of the disturbing controversy over the Clare Hall and Balgriffin lands, I urge the new Dublin City and Fingal county managers to consider applying to the Minister for strategic development zone status for the remaining undeveloped north fringe lands in Dublin City and Fingal. The SDZ route should especially be considered for the lands of Belcamp College, where Gannon Homes applied last year for a Manhattan style development of skyscrapers and some of the highest residential density ever seen in Ireland. I call on the Minister of State to ensure the valuation is published and that there will be an open public tender, that the city council gets full value for money and that the Comptroller and Auditor General examines this matter. I also call on him to consider strategic development zone status for the north fringe.
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
Mr. N. Ahern:I am pleased to update the House on the proposed sale of lands at Clare Hall and Belmayne. The purchase of the site was not directly funded by my Department. The site was part of a 30-acre site bought by Dublin City Council in 1999 for €18.8 million, for social and affordable housing purposes, by means of a housing finance agency loan. That purchase had the approval of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The council  now proposes to sell 23 acres of the site to Stanley Holdings, which owns sites adjacent to this land, for €60.4 million.
There was some discussion between Department officials and Dublin City Council on the council’s decision to dispose of the site. While a public tendering process often yields a higher value, the council felt the particular circumstances surrounding this site meant the preferable option was to negotiate with the adjacent developer. The site being sold is surrounded by lands belonging to Stanley Holdings and any successful bidder under a public tendering process would have to negotiate with that company to secure access rights. This would have the effect of reducing any bid for the lands being sold by the council. It was the view of the council that negotiating directly with the adjacent developer would leverage the maximum possible outcome for the site.
In May 2006, the council negotiated a price of €48 million with Stanley Holdings, with an uplift clause built in that would enable the council to revisit the deal if it felt subsequently that a higher valuation of the site was merited. The council subsequently invoked this clause and recently negotiated a deal worth €60.4 million. Contract negotiations are nearing completion at this stage. However, the deal is worth more than the €60.4 million agreed. Part of the north fringe master plan involves a plaza and the development of a new main street and DART station from Baldoyle to this junction at the Malahide Road end. As part of the deal negotiated with Stanley Holdings, the company will construct this plaza and new main street on their property within 18 months, and it will then come back into public ownership.
A resolution agreeing to the disposal of the lands was passed by Dublin City Council. It is proposed the council will use the funds arising from the sale of these lands for capital projects within the city. The remaining seven acres from the original 30-acre site purchase by the council in 1999 is being held as part of the council’s land bank for future housing needs.
The Deputy will note that I had reservations about the sale of this site. It was bought for social and affordable housing and I thought it should be used for that purpose. The Deputy’s party has a majority on the city council and the job of disposing of land is the responsibility of the councillors.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan:Does the Minister of State not agree that the councillors did not have the information?
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
Mr. N. Ahern:I expressed my concerns to councillors and they were raised on the floor of the council. I would have preferred that this land was used for a different purpose. The Deputy has often voiced his concern about housing waiting  lists and so on and I was shocked when councillors from different parties, including my own and that of the Deputy, agreed to sell this. The process has gone through in accordance with the regulations. The motions and the approval of the decision——
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
Mr. Broughan:The contracts are not signed.
Mr. N. Ahern Mr. N. Ahern
 Mr. N. Ahern:The contracts have not been signed, but the decision to sell has been approved by Dublin City Council. Despite my reservations, I do not know how that can be changed at this stage.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 October 2006.
Dáil Éireann 625 Adjournment Debate. Planning Issues.