One of Ireland's biggest property development companies has made "serious allegations" against senior officials in Dublin City Council of what it calls "deep and ingrained personal bias and malice" against property developer Johnny Ronan.
In a letter delivered to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O'Brien late last week, Rory Williams, the chief executive of Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), also claims "one arm of the planning system is seeking to undermine the application of Government policy by another arm of the planning system".
"We have first-hand evidence of DCC officials admitting their bias where one commented, when asked whether there would be tall buildings in Dublin Docklands: 'Oh there will be, just not Johnny Ronan buildings'," says Williams, in a letter to the minister seen by the Sunday Independent. The letter also gives details of a planning meeting in January 2019 regarding its Spencer Place apartment development when a senior planning official said Ronan would not be granted the height and density permission, which "clearly predetermined" the outcome of pending planning applications "and betrayed entirely improper motives".
The row comes after Dublin City Council announced it is to seek a second judicial review of Ronan's plans, approved by An Bord Pleanala, to build two residential blocks of 11 and 13 storeys on its site at Spencer Place, on the north side of the River Liffey.
"I fully realise that this letter contains serious allegations," Williams wrote. "It is a measure of the gravity of the situation that we believe we have no alternative, and indeed a duty, to advise you, as minister, of them."
Dublin City Council declined to comment, saying that the matter is currently before the courts.
Williams, a solicitor and former partner in Arthur Cox, who spent five years as chief legal officer of semi-State water utility Ervia, added: "I am not one to make such serious allegations lightly… I am very familiar with the standards of governance which should apply in the public sector".
RGRE wants to build 464 buy-to-rent apartments and 200 co-living spaces, including 47 social housing units, on the site adjacent to its Salesforce headquarters currently under construction. It claims the development would not only help ease the housing crisis but provide a windfall cash bonus of €40m for cash-strapped CIE which has a stake in the development.
It also claims that the latest legal delays will cost the development company "tens of millions of euro''.
It is the second time Dublin City Council has sought a judicial review of plans for the site. The first permission, granted by An Bord Pleanala under the Government's fast-track Strategic Housing Development plan, which by-passes the local authority, was flawed, the High Court found. But Williams believes the council's decision to go to court for a second judicial review is based on personal antagonism and bias against Ronan, who built the iconic Conference Centre nearby.
"DCC's policy of maintaining low heights and densities in Docklands and its habit of attacking other State bodies which are endeavouring to implement Government guidelines and provide such height and density are having a damaging effect on Dublin's status as an emerging international tech and finance centre," Williams told the minister.
"Its approach betrays an outdated vision for a low-rise Docklands, contrary to the principles of the National Planning Framework."
He says the bias can be clearly seen in DCC's own planning decisions.
RGRE had an application for a 22-storey tower at Tara Street refused twice, even though it conformed to the Local Area Plan. "Yet a 21-storey tower overlooking Trinity College, a 23-storey tower at Connolly Station, a 29-storey tower at Heuston Station and a 23-storey at Capital Dock in Dublin's South Docklands" were granted permission.
Williams also claims that despite support from the IDA "and other civic bodies", DCC has refused Ronan's plans to increase its Salesforce Tower in the north docks from nine to 11 storeys, "where heights well in excess of nine storeys should be the norm".
Ronan's company and the city council have been at loggerheads since it refused a design for the National Conference Centre by the late Kevin Roche, the New York-based architect who was recognised as one of Ireland's greatest modern designers. Tensions have also been inflamed by a series of newspaper advertisements paid for by Ronan's company seeking to influence public opinion against DCC's "height restrictions".
Meanwhile it emerged yesterday that Irish coffee group Bewley's has made an offer to the landlord of its famous Grafton Street cafe that could save it from closure.
In a letter sent to Ronan Group Real Estate, which is controlled by Johnny Ronan, Bewley's has offered to pay its rent arrears on the property, along with interest and legal costs. The iconic cafe has been closed since March 16.