Friday 20 April 2018

Docklands projects may start quickly as planning laws change

An artist's impression of the 1,120m Watchtower at the Village development in Dublin's Docklands area
An artist's impression of the 1,120m Watchtower at the Village development in Dublin's Docklands area

Donal Buckley

DEVELOPERS with some of the more valuable sites in Dublin's Docklands may come under pressure to bring forward developments within the next six months. Otherwise they may face delays or they may have the potential of their projects curtailed.

NAMA may be among the controllers of docklands property who are currently facing this dilemma. It arises for those who own sites which already received planning permissions, known as Section 25 certificates, from the former Docklands Development Authority (DDDA).

Now the holders of these certificates are faced with a new 'Use it or Lose' law which says that unless they can show that substantial development work has taken place on those projects, they will have to re-apply for planning permission. The Government plans to implement this new law before the end of this year.

Planning consultant Tom Phillips, director of Property Industry Ireland, says it may cause some developers to take legal action to retain existing planning permissions. However, they would need to prove they have already undertaken sufficient work to justify such retentions.

Dublin City Council (DCC) has an alternative dilemma as to whether it ought to fight such legal actions in order to protect its new vision for the development of docklands. Alternatively the council may decide to back off and encourage developers to avail of existing permissions as quicker development would generate more jobs as well as more offices and flats which are needed to meet the emerging shortages.

The new law is being introduced in order to clarify the legal position of Section 25s under the recently approved Strategic Development Zone for the North Lotts and Grand Canal Harbour areas. Effectively it will kill off Section 25 planning permissions unless substantial development has been undertaken on the sites.

NAMA and a number of receivers who control docklands sites raised the Section 25 issue with An Bord Pleanala (BP) prior to the board's recent approval of the SDZ.

NAMA has exposure to about 15 hectares of development land in docklands and chief executive Brendan McDonagh says that An Bord Pleanala's approval of the SDZ under the control of NAMA receivers and debtors "can now be accelerated over the coming years".

Chairman Frank Daly says that the SDZ gives NAMA the off after waiting for starters orders and it plans to invest about €1bn in development of residential and grade A office space in docklands. He expressed the hope that cranes would appear on the skylines next year.

The SDZ would allow about 366,000 square metres of office space and 2,600 homes to be developed across 22 hectares. It will allow two landmark buildings up to 22 storeys (88m), but most development will be eight-storeys high.

While SDZ is designed to allow fast-tracking of planning permissions, those developers with Section 25s for more lucrative developments may prefer to avail of such existing permissions rather than apply again.

Among the developments which have Section 25 approval are the U2 Tower on south docklands as well as Harry Crosbie's 42-storey Watchtower Building (above) reaching 125m high at Point Square.

Paul McCann and Steve Tennant of Grant Thornton, receivers for specific assets of Henry A Crosbie, told BP that a six storey mixed-use building adjacent to the Watchtower was also already permitted and these buildings were connected by a basement which has been substantially constructed. They also argued that there was no justification for a reduction in building heights.

Spencer Dock Development Company Ltd (SDDC) was one of the parties to use its existing Section 25 permission and convince BP to increase the height of a proposed hotel on its North Lotts site.

SDDC's receivers David Hughes and Luke Charleton had appealed certain aspects of the city council's SDZ. These included the council's restriction of the height of the hotel block to six storeys of commercial or seven storeys of residential. The receivers pointed out that in its S25, the hotel has a height of 56m "set by reference to the top of glazed drum of the convention centre (13+ commercial storeys)".

In response BP increased the permissible height of this building to 52 metres with either 11 storeys of commercial or 13 storeys of residential accommodation.

The receivers also argued that the three storey height limit on Block 2D at Spencer Dock would under-utilise scarce resources.

While at least one estate agent feels that the SDZ is a missed opportunity for higher density housing, CBRE points out that the SDZ will allow much-needed residential and office development in the very location that occupiers want to locate.

"It gives certainty to potential occupiers on the ability to secure fast-track planning if they adhere to the height, design and configurations laid out in the planning scheme – and will help address some of the supply shortages being experienced in the market at this juncture," said CBRE director Marie Hunt.

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