Council wants to keep docklands fast-track planning powers


DUBLIN CITY Council wants to retain fast-track planning powers over the docklands area once the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) has been abolished.

The Government last May decided to wind up the authority after the Comptroller and Auditor General found serious shortcomings in the conduct of its planning and development functions.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan appointed city manager John Tierney to chair a transitional board to oversee the dissolution of the authority over an 18-month period.

Mr Tierney has now written to Mr Hogan asking that the fast-track planning used by the dockland’s authority be retained so that planning decisions made by the city council in the docklands area cannot be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. When the docklands authority was set up, it was given the power to grant developers permission to build within its area. Once permission was granted, it could not be appealed to the local authority or to An Bord Pleanála.

In 2008, the High Court found the authority acted outside its powers in approving a development by Liam Carroll’s company, North Quay Investments Ltd (NQI). The approval was granted under the fast-track powers, known as Section 25 powers.

In his letter, Mr Tierney asks the Minister to redesignate the North Lotts and Grand Canal Quay Section 25 areas as a strategic development zone (SDZ).

The council would then prepare a planning scheme for the zone and applications from developers which met with the principles of the scheme could be approved directly by the council, with no recourse to An Bord Pleanála.

A spokesman for the department said options regarding the continuation of fast-track planning procedures were being considered by the Minister and Government and that the SDZ process was one option. He confirmed that Mr Tierney’s letter had been received. “The department will now engage with both the council and the DDDA in assessing the merits of such a proposal,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor Ruairí McGinley said that although the public would not be able to appeal the council’s decisions to An Bord Pleanála, the new process would be far more transparent and accountable than the docklands authority’s planning system.

“Local authority involvement, both at official and elected member level for the SDZ, will greatly strengthen the position from the previous DDDA and avoid ‘golden circles’,” he said.

This area was vital for future city development and the new process had clear advantages in relation to the consideration of housing, and local employment and educational facilities. Community representation would be central to the SDZ scheme, he said.

He added it was essential all material related to the authority was made available to the councillors before they took its powers. “To learn from the past, it is important to document precisely what happened and to put procedures in place to avoid a re-occurrence.”