News Comment

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Garth Brooks fiasco proves that we need a city boss who answers to an elected mayor

Deirdre Conroy

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

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Garth Brooks at Croke Park
Garth Brooks at Croke Park

IS this how we want our city managed? The case for a city manager answerable to an elected lord mayor has never been more apposite. We have recently witnessed an embarrassing stand-off between an impotent lord mayor and an authoritarian city manager.

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The wider ramification of the recent violation of planning legislation by Dublin City Council has collateral damage for our city and country. There was never any legal basis to grant licences for Garth Brooks' concerts in 2014.

Croke Park Stadium was redeveloped under planning permission granted in 1993 with a condition that: "The number of special events such as concerts, conventions or exhibitions shall not exceed three per annum." (Condition 11a of planning register reference number 238/92)

During 2007, Croke Park applied for permission to amend "in perpetuity" Condition 11(b) of the 1993 permission. This was granted, allowing an extension of the hours of operations for live music performances by one hour until 11pm.

Planning register number 6473/06 Condition 3 states: "Apart from the amendment sought in this application, all proposed live music performances shall be arranged and operated in accordance with the conditions laid down by An Bord Pleanala in its decision to grant permission for the redevelopment of Croke Park stadium on 9 March, 1993 and all the relevant conditions of Planning Register No 0238/92 shall be adhered to."

The 2014 event licence was granted by Dublin City Council for three concerts by One Direction, on May 23, 24 and 25, as is the norm for any major public event. When the GAA/ Croke Park accepted a booking for five Garth Brooks concerts they knew that this would exceed the limits of their planning permission.

When DCC granted an event licence for the three One Direction concerts, it was aware that the limit of events for Croke Park in 2014 had now been reached.

The simple facts are that DCC acted in breach of Planning legislation in granting a three-day licence for Garth Brooks as the GAA had exhausted their planning permission for 2014 after the One Direction concert

An event licence does not supersede planning permission. Examining the legislation, it seems the gap is that an event licence requires the applicant to furnish evidence that the owner/occupier has consented, but does not explicitly request the occupier/owner to confirm that the hire of the premises complies with planning.

However, as the event licence application is made to the planning authority, which is also the planning enforcement authority, it would be reasonable to expect that they would have an overview and would check such fundamental issues when they receive an application for five concerts with 80k-plus attendees each night.

Unfortunately it seems that Dublin City Council did not notify the promoter (Aiken) or the stadium owner (GAA) that a licence application was insufficient and that an amendment to planning permission would be required.

The City Manager informed the elected representatives of Dublin City Council meeting on July 7 that there was no provision for reversing or modifying his decision to reduce the five concerts to three (though three was already illegal).

There is a good case now for a judicial review of how this decision was made by a planning authority and why the planning authority failed to advise the applicant that the venue operator (the GAA) did not have planning permission to host ANY further concerts in 2014, and how the city council granted a licence for three concerts when to do so was clearly in breach of planning.

Either it is acceptable to have more than three concerts a year without planning permission or it is not. The second licence for three Garth Brooks concerts signifies it WAS deemed acceptable to contravene planning permission. If the City Manager was willing to overlook compliance with planning permission for three concerts then why not extend this breach to five? When the Taoiseach stepped in to see whether licensing regulations as well as the planning permission could be waived, we have our local and national authority condoning two wrongs to make a right.

Where does this cavalier approach come from? The residents of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown have undergone a taste of what they might see as the same autocracy when the current Dublin City Manager presided over spending €36m on their 'monstrous carbuncle' (to borrow from Prince Charles) of a library which disrupts the Victorian seafront.

One of the first things the City Manager did when he moved from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown was to cut the homeless budget.

He has now managed to sever revenue to Dublin and the national economy by a minimum of €50m. A fraction of which would have gone a long way to fund poverty programmes.

What should have happened? Dublin City Council should have highlighted last January that the One Direction concerts would exhaust Croke Park's permission for concerts this year and any further concerts required planning permission. A proper process of consultation and application could then have taken place, without the fiasco that has ensued.

Now that democratically elected local representatives have been stripped of power, who will keep the unelected autocrats in check? It seems no one.

Deirdre Conroy is an architectural historian

Irish Independent

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