Dublin site plan more complex than crony capitalism

Thu, Apr 22, 2010, 01:00

Plans for two competing shopping centres in the south of the county are at the heart of a dispute between councillors and the Minister

IT HAS been described by Ciarán Cuffe, the new Minister of State in charge of planning, as an example of “crony capitalism” and a reversion to the highly-questionable rezoning practices of the 1980s.

But the determination of a majority of councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to upgrade a site in Carrickmines – owned by Michael Cotter’s Park Developments – from neighbourhood to district centre status is a more complex story about where new shopping facilities should be located.

The Park in Carrickmines is a large housing scheme developed over several years, which already has a “retail park” with the usual range of outlets, but no supermarket to serve the estimated 18,000 people living in the catchment area, which includes Ballyogan, Glenamuck, Kilternan and Stepaside.

Park Developments got an uncontested planning permission in 2008 to develop a neighbourhood centre at The Park, consisting of a supermarket and a small number of ancillary retail outlets as well as almost 300 apartments. It also has approval for a major office scheme, of which two block are already built.

In 2008, after Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council published its latest draft development plan, Park Developments and Tesco made submissions requesting that the neighbourhood centre should be upgraded to district centre status, given that the planned population of its catchment is put at 35,000.

The initial response from the planners – in an August 2008 report to the council by county manager Owen Keegan – was quite open. They recommended that the council should “reassess possible reclassification within the retail hierarchy of Cherrywood, Sandyford Business Estate and Carrickmines”.

Later, however, the planners recommended that no change be made to the existing neighbourhood centre zoning at The Park. Their rationale was that, if it was reclassified as a district centre, it would take business away from the proposed district centre at Cherrywood, where the council itself has an interest.

The “new town” planned for Cherrywood is embryonic at this stage. Like Carrickmines, it has a projected population of 35,000. But unlike Carrickmines, there are very few people living there so far. The biggest landowner is Dunloe Ewart, which is controlled by Liam Carroll, the now debt-laden property developer.

Last July, Mr Keegan said in a High Court affidavit that the county council was very concerned that the €57 million it had put into a 1997 joint venture agreement with Mr Carroll’s companies to develop the Cherrywood lands for a science and technology park was “in jeopardy” because of their insolvency.

“One would assume from those publicly expressed concerns that the reality is that the council knows full well that there is absolutely no possibility of any significant development of any kind happening out in Cherrywood for a very long time,” said Tim Crowley, project director for Park Developments.

Noting that Cherrywood had been designated as a strategic development zone (SDZ), he forecasted that it could be up to eight years before this planning process would be completed – as had happened in Adamstown, near Lucan.

It was thus a long-term project compared to The Park in Carrickmines.

But Mr Cuffe strongly defended Cherrywood, saying a huge public investment had already gone into providing infrastructure there, including a new terminus for the Sandyford Luas line. “Now is the time to make it happen, not to threaten its viability with another shopping centre a mile down the road.”

To him, the site in Carrickmines “bears an uncanny resemblance to Liffey Valley in terms of its location at the edge of where people are living, rather than in the heart of a community”. By contrast, the proposed Cherrywood district centre was “very well-placed in terms of its future population”, he said.

A spokesman for Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who directed Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown councillors to reverse their rezoning decision on Carrickmines, speculated that the development of Cherrywood would be “top of the list for development” when it falls into the hands of Nama.

Planning consultant John Spain, who advises Park Developments, said “there was a concern [in the Department of the Environment] that councillors were acting against the manager’s advice.

“But the planning rationale for ministerial intervention is not there, because this is not an ‘out-of-town’ shopping centre.”

Tesco obviously sees the value of having a large supermarket at The Park, given its location in a relatively affluent catchment area.

Under the deal it has signed with Park Developments, the British-owned multiple would contribute €70 million to the construction costs in return for becoming the anchor store.

Mr Crowley said that the proposed centre had been “consistently supported” by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Independent councillors on the basis that it was “entirely sustainable in planning terms” and that schemes of this kind “in the midst of large areas of new housing” were in line with the Greater Dublin Area retail strategy.

He noted that councillors from both the Green Party and the Labour had, in contrast, voted against the inclusion of a district centre at Cherrywood in the 2004 Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Development Plan and had also previously voted against the Dundrum Town Centre, which opened in 2005.

In terms of public transport access, The Park at Carrickmines would be served by the Ballyogan Woods stop on the extended Sandyford Luas line, which would be located some 200 metres from the proposed district centre. Cherrywood would be better served by Luas, with a stop directly in front of its proposed centre.

To avoid a further confrontation with Mr Gormley, the councillors who support the Carrickmines rezoning have proposed capping the size of the proposed centre at 20,000sq metres (215,280sq ft), rather than the 25,000sq metres (269,100sq ft) originally proposed.

It remains to be seen whether this will satisfy the Minister.


Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has only four district centres to serve a population of 200,000.

If the designated town centres of Dún Laoghaire and Dundrum are included, this produces an average of one centre for 32,500 people. The Retail Planning Guidelines recommend one centre for 25,000.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is also lagging behind the area administered by South Dublin County Council, which has eight existing or proposed district centres for a population of 240,000, while the Fingal County Council area, which also has a population of 240,000, is served by eight existing and proposed district centres.