Business Irish

Thursday 29 September 2016

State all set to pay funny money for D4's school by the seaside

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

The €21m five-acre site on the coast in Sandymount
The €21m five-acre site on the coast in Sandymount

In a week dominated by disproportionately dramatic economic growth figures, we could have been forgiven for thinking we were back in the heady days of the 2000s when the country was in the midst of a property frenzy.

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Back in those days, of course, headlines were also dominated by the ginormous prices being paid by property developers for sites around the country and particularly in the capital.

This week, though, it's the Department of Education's plan to pay up to €21m for Rehab's former site in Sandymount, Dublin 4, and possibly house an Educate Together school on it that brought us right back to the last decade. (Yes, you read that correctly, a Government department - not a heavily leveraged property developer in sight)

If the department secures the 5.16-acre site, it would represent a price of more than €4m per acre.

Now that's a far cry from pre-recession days in terms of cost per acre and a few biggies spring to mind from those times.

In 2004, Glenkerrin Homes chief Ray Grehan splurged €171.5m on the former UCD veterinary college in Ballsbridge which sat on a site of just under two acres - or €84.5m an acre.

Former education minister Ruairi Quinn, who had tried to secure the site from Rehab
Former education minister Ruairi Quinn, who had tried to secure the site from Rehab

But in these more value-for-money conscious days, it still seems bordering on bonkers that a Government department would be prepared to spend €4m per acre of taxpayers' money to secure a site for a school.

Now there's no doubting that the good children of Dublin 4 are as entitled to an accessible school as anyone else, but is the sea view necessary?

It is understood that former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn had been in negotiations with Rehab in a bid to secure the site but those discussions came to nothing. We're on our second education minister since then.

Even if both a primary and secondary school were to be built on the 5.16-acre site, what would the remainder of it be used for or is there a possibility parts of it could be sold on?

One of the initial bidders, Cairn Homes, had expected to get planning permission for a mixed development of up to 120 homes and apartments - these would also be welcome given the housing crisis and shortage of homes.

If this is a legacy issue, one would have to wonder - at what price?

If it isn't, then maybe someone at the Department of Education should take out a calculator, or better still, call their colleagues at the Dept of Health who are gearing up to rent office space on a prime city centre site at the former Bank of Ireland HQ on Dublin's Baggot Street for around €60 per sq ft.

'Sleepwalking off a cliff' doesn't count as a plan

Still on numbers, you could have knocked us over with a feather when the latest gross domestic product (GDP) growth figures were released by the Central Statistics Office.

Growth of no less than 26pc in the last year... and us only out of recession a wet week.

It's nonsense really, of course - and as Game of Thrones fans will be aware, it is as fanciful as a set of figures from the Iron Bank of Braavos - in reality, the numbers are inflated by the actions of multinationals attracted to this country by our low corporation tax rate and other incentives.

The reclassification is down to a range of once-off factors, including the relocation of aircraft leasing assets, the transfer of patents and a number of so-called corporate inversion deals that bear no relation to the real economy.

The blame game is in full swing, but surely we should be focusing on how we can quantify actual growth in the economy for the next set of significant figures, rather than all the bluster.

It's not as if these issues came out of the blue.

The Central Bank has been warning about the contribution of these factors to growth figures for years now.

While patronising terms such as 'leprechaun economics' - used by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman to describe the figures - are unfortunate, it's a shame that all the good work done by Government and agencies such as IDA Ireland abroad post-recession could be jeopardised if the issue is not resolved.

A strong economy is one of the best things we have going for us - anomalies aside, growth in the Irish economy was probably about 5pc, which is not to be sniffed at.

But sleepwalking into awkward economic situations has served us badly in the past - so let's not drop the ball on this one.

New DG takes control of RTE in turbulent times

Dee Forbes, RTE's first ever female director general, took up the reins last week.

Most recently, Forbes was president and MD of Discovery Networks Northern Europe, where she managed 27 TV brands in 18 markets. Prior to that, she led Turner Broadcasting in the UK and Ireland.

Her job now, she told staff, is, among other things, to future-proof the State broadcaster.

No simple task, given the increasingly disrupted nature of the media industry in general.

In addition, there's growing competition for ad revenue from the likes of Facebook and Google, State funding at RTE notwithstanding.

Forbes also comes to the market at a time when the pitch is becoming more and more crowded with content providers, and the lines between media, telecoms and technology firms are increasingly blurred.

Earlier this month, Eir launched its new sports-led TV services, which include six sports channels, including BT Sport.

Then, on her first day in the job, it emerged that Virgin Media, part of John Malone's Liberty Global Group, is set to buy the loss-making UTV Ireland in a €10m deal.

The agreement, which will need the usual regulatory approval, includes a 10-year deal for the rights to the likes of Coronation Street.

Liberty Global bought TV3 last year, so there's no doubt Liberty will be looking for synergies between the two businesses.

If that wasn't a hell of a lot of TV activity in a month for a small island like Ireland, the international TV world is already on a rollercoaster ride given the challenges and competition that the likes of Netflix and other streaming services have brought to the industry.

One thing's for sure, the future will not be boring.

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