Row sparked by local authority failure to enforce planning laws
BY rights there should be no one in the Whitewater Shopping Centre in Co Kildare today, because it should never have been built.
The planning permission granted for the development in 2003 was clear -- the amount to be paid to the council for new roads should have been agreed "before development commences".
But seven years later there was still no agreement, and the row was referred to An Bord Pleanala for settlement.
In the meantime, the shops were open for business, rents were being paid and the council was taking in commercial rates -- a win-win for everybody, despite planning rules being broken.
Local authorities have adopted a softly-softly approach to enforcing the planning laws.
Between 2000 and 2007, 3,722 enforcement notices were issued, setting what actions developers were required to take.
Just over 1,500 were complied with -- but only 155 builders ended up being convicted of an offence.
Last month, it emerged that the €380m National Convention Centre in Dublin does not have the required sewerage facilities to deal with waste from the 8,000 people a day who could descend on the centre.
Despite the consortium building the centre, led by Treasury Holdings, being required to build a pumping facility under planning conditions for the site, work has yet to begin.
Nevertheless, the centre will open next month and human waste will be pumped into an overloaded system.
Today, details of the state of unfinished ghost estates in Co Laois show that the Department of the Environment has serious concerns about whether developers have lodged enough money to finish them off.
The suspicion is there is not enough, because the planners failed to impose the correct amount, or the money was never paid over. This means the taxpayer will be forced to step in to make sites safe and bring houses up to standard.
The move by Sean Dunne and Sean Mulryan to ask An Bord Pleanala to intervene is unusual. The planning appeals board has powers under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to settle disputes over conditions attached to planning permissions, but they are rarely used.
Just 60 cases have been referred to the board under the act, of which about four are currently active. The cases relate to disputes over how much should be paid in development levies, to the type of finishes to be applied to buildings, to construction of sewerage systems.
The board noted that Mr Dunne and Mr Mulryan were "convinced" that agreement could not be reached because of the "enormous gulf" between both sides' estimates on what should be paid.
Kildare had demanded €20.5m, the developers believed just €6.9m should be paid -- the row is likely to end up in the High Court where legal bills will add to the mounting costs.
It could have been settled years ago, had Kildare County Council stopped the diggers from moving in and enforced its own conditions.
Ghost estates pose safety risk