Gormley ruling in planning row divides council
ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley could face legal action after his personal halting of a major retail development in south Dublin two weeks ago.
Mr Gormley put 800 jobs in jeopardy after he ordered a halt to the building of a €175m, 25,000sq ft retail centre because he said it contravened planning standards.
In an unprecedented move, the development at Carrickmines District Centre, which was twice approved by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, was stopped by Mr Gormley after he said it was not in line with proper planning standards.
In a letter to the council's county manager, Owen Keegan, Mr Gormley said he was taking the decision following failures by the council to address his concerns over the size of the project.
Mr Gormley said that council approval of the project would be in direct contravention to the "national spatial strategy, regional planning guidelines and national planning policies" which that council had previously expressed support in.
Following receipt of the letter, given to all council members last Wednesday week at an extraordinary council meeting, the council was evenly split 13 votes to 13 on whether to re-zone the lands.
Marie Baker, cathaoirleach of the council, was forced to use her deciding vote to push through Mr Gormley's direction after previously voting in favour of Carrickmines.
Several councillors who were in favour of the project have said the council was threatened with dissolution had it rejected Mr Gormley's directive. Tim Crowley, a director of Tristor Ltd, the company behind the proposed development, told the Sunday Independent: "We are absolutely devastated by what has transpired in the last 10 days through the unprecedented and unwarranted intervention by Minister John Gormley in the democratic decision making of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council. It is a massive setback to have the minister overturn two democratic decisions by local councillors.
"We are having to consider all our options following this entirely questionable move my Minister Gormley."
Councillors are also seeking legal advice following Mr Gormley's decision.
Several councillors accused Mr Gormley of jeopardising the jobs at Carrickmines and of backing the "lame duck" Cherrywood project, which they say will never be built.
In January, following the collapse of Liam Carroll's Zoe developments, the council established a new company to take over management of the development of Cherrywood, a site it once co-owned with Mr Carroll.
The Dublin council said that it would now have a "significant property holding'' in Cherrywood, most of which will be located near the Luas terminus. The 64-acre site, off the N11 was part-owned by the council which had invested €57m in to the project. Mr Keegan said in a recent report to the council that he concurs with Mr Gormley's submission and agrees that the designation of Carrickmines as a District Centre would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. However, several councillors have pointed out that Mr Keegan had earlier indicated support for Carrickmines. Fianna Fail councillor Gerry Horkan said: "It is hard to reconcile the manager's position on this given his earlier indications of support.
"It is also hard to accept the argument that Carrickmines would do untold damage to the area. But a Cherrywood would do worse, it could be argued. This project should go ahead."
Mr Horkan said it is incredible that the Greens are now supporting the Cherrywood project after vehemently opposing it in the past.
Several other councillors criticised the role of former Green councillor Tom Kivlehan who has been present at council meetings despite losing his seat.
Mr Kivlehan said this has been a major issue for him since his time on the council and as a member of the public he is entitled to attend.
"I started this when I was on the council and I want to see it finished. I think those criticising me should concentrate on doing their jobs and not taking cheap personal shots at me. I am entitled to be in the chamber as a member of the public."
However, several of those who opposed the Carrickmines project said that, despite major issues with Mr Gormley, he was correct to halt the project. Labour councillor Aidan Culhane said he had major disagreements with Mr Gormley in the past but on this occasion the Environment Minister was absolutely correct.
Mr Culhane said: "The last thing this city needs is another side of the motorway shopping centre. Do we want another Liffey Valley or Blanchardstown? I don't think so."
Fine Gael councillor Jim O'Leary also criticised Mr Gormley yesterday and questioned his motives in seeking to reduce Dun Laoghaire's overall retail space by 20 per cent. "This shows again Mr Gormley is up his own hole.
"He seems to have an unhealthy fixation with Dun Laoghaire."