Saturday 16 February 2019

Dunnes win High Court order to halt bid on declaring shopping centre building a vacant site

Dunnes Stores (stock image)
Dunnes Stores (stock image)

Tim Healy

Dunnes Stores has won a High Court order halting moves to place a closed shopping centre building in Limerick city centre on an official register for vacant sites.

The site at Sarsfield Street has been valued by an estate agent at €3m and inclusion on the register means an owner must pay a three per cent penalty levy on market value. 

The court granted Dunnes Stores (Limerick) Ltd and Dunnes Stores Unlimited Company a stay on Bord Pleanála's determination of an appeal of the council's decision to place the property on the Vacant Sites Register under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015. 

Dunnes, which rejected a €3m offer for it on behalf of the council, says the council failed to give adequate reasons for its decision to declare it a vacant site.  It was made in bad faith and for an ulterior and/or improper purpose, it says.

It says that purpose was to acquire the property to develop it as a civic and cultural amenity centre as part of the council's economic and spatial strategy in its 2010-16 development plan.

The council, which says the site is under-utilised at this key prominent location and is detracting from the the character of the area, opposed the Dunnes' application.

The Sarsfield Street centre was closed by Dunnes in 2008 but it continued to be maintained, the court heard

In 2010 the property was zoned under the Limerick City Development Plan 2010 for high-end retailing and a range of other supporting retail uses.

In  March 2013, the council served a notice that it was going to include the property on the Derelict Sites Act.  Dunnes said it was not derelict.

Following correspondence between the parties, the site was not placed on the derelict sites register.

But county and city councillors then put a new designation on the site under the Limerick 2030 Economic and Spatial Plan which earmarked it for potential development as a civic and cultural centre for the city.

The council enquired with Dunnes about the proposed compulsory purchase of the site and surrounding property.

In July 2017, an estate agent acting on behalf of the council submitted the €3m offer to buy the site.  Dunnes did not accept it.

In January last year, the council served notice it was to be entered on the Vacant Sites Register stating it was zoned residential in the development plan and part of the Limerick regeneration area. 

An Bord Pleanála was asked to decide, among other things, whether or not it was regeneration land.

Dunnes disputed that it was part of the regeneration area.

When the council refused to cancel its entry on the Vacant Sites register, it brought High Court proceedings seeking to quash the decision.

It also asked that the court case should take priority over the board making a decision.

It was claimed the council showed bad faith by putting it on the register where it was clear it (council) had shown an interest in acquiring it. 

The council said the board should be allowed to make its decision first and depending on the outcome, there would be no need for the court case.  It said there was no merit or substance to the claim of bad faith.

Ms Justice Una NíRaifeartaigh ruled there should be a stay on the board's decision pending determination of the court judicial review proceedings.

She did not see any prejudice to the council by allowing the judicial review proceed first.  If Dunnes are unsuccessful, the levy on the site can be backdated, she said.

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