Sunday 16 June 2019

We're in danger of making a total mess of our beautiful city

An aerial view of the Poolbeg Peninsula, including the vacant Irish Glass Bottle site
An aerial view of the Poolbeg Peninsula, including the vacant Irish Glass Bottle site
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

One of the unique features of our capital city is its proximity to the sea and the mountains. We have a special relationship with both, walking and cycling close to nature.

The welcome announcement of 3,000 houses on the Irish Glass Bottle site will invigorate our residential community and provide . . . who knows? Affordable housing? The site is particularly interesting, with a canal basin and proximity to the seashore and the city centre.

What had been an industrial site in Ringsend became the jewel in the crown during the race to the bottom of the boom. The 24-acre site was sold by Paul Coulson of Ardagh Group to a consortium led by Bernard McNamara for €412m.

In 2012, the Irish Glass Bottle site was valued at €45m. The losing investors included a syndicate put together by Davy Stockbrokers with some very well-known businessmen. Anglo Irish bank loaned €288m to buy the site. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority was a major investor.

The mammoth real-estate vehicle that is Nama is now in charge of tendering for the site. It has owned the site since it took over the IBRC loan book six years ago. Why was it not made a strategic development zone before now? Think of the glory that Alan Kelly could have bathed in.

This fairytale site, which is set to be hyped as a symbol of State generosity, is situated en route to the massive incinerator being constructed on a tiny peninsula in Dublin Bay.

I've been watching the progress of the behemoth that will disfigure the shoreline.

The company behind the incinerator, Covanta, has been lobbying successive governments and city councillors for years. But the plan to put an incinerator on a stretch of popular coastline beside the small villages of Ringsend, Irishtown and the suburb of Sandymount had been vehemently rejected for two decades - until one man, Dublin City chief executive Owen Keegan, who is elected by nobody in this country, went against the city councillors who had voted to have the plan scrapped last year.

The scale, form and nature of the incinerator are one thing, but getting the waste to it will require hundreds of large waste trucks each week coming through the narrow residential roads from the south and city to meet its target of 600,000 tonnes per year.

This plan to increase truck traffic through the suburbs was signed off by the same man who wants to ban cars from the city centre. Plazas are lovely in Rome and Milan, where the sun shines most of the year. But it rains here. A lot.

In media reports, Covanta is due to spend €500m on developing the incinerator. Don't be confused, that is not €500m of its own money. The four Dublin councils have already spent €100m on the project.

The remainder is through a 15-year loan at 13.5pc interest from a company registered in Luxembourg, called Dublin First WTE (a wholly owned subsidiary of one of the funders), which has a stakeholder agreement with an Irish company, Dublin Waste to Energy (Holdings), which is owned by Covanta.

This is the local holding company for Dublin Waste to Energy Ltd, which is the PPP partner with Dublin City Council, South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for the incinerator project.

OK, be confused - the Cayman Islands is also involved.

But remember that Covanta gets all the benefit. It will return the incinerator to Dublin City Council in 45 years' time, when the plant is obsolete.

We are custodians of our environment, both built and natural. We need waste-treatment plants that are of the most sustainable standard, but if the incinerator was designed to meet the waste needs of the eastern and midlands waste region of Ireland, why was it not located away from residential suburbs and streets already clogged with traffic?

What we build and how we expand our living environment has to be sustainable in the long term.

If we don't preserve what has been handed down to us and develop where it is safe and suitable, cities become theme parks, demolished and rebuilt as developers gather momentum and fashions change, leaving gaps for years where people end up homeless. Just like now.

Maybe it's a tough job managing a capital city, especially Dublin. There are medieval, Georgian, Victorian Dublin, the old and new Docklands and then there are the parts of Dublin that could be revitalised, littered streets, tacky shopfronts and derelict sites. How will the Irish Glass Bottle site look? Who will be given the contract(s)? What involvement will Dublin City Council have? Where will it re-route all the waste trucks?

The chief executive of Dublin City Council issued a three-page letter last week to all employees. Nobody is allowed comment to the media on any request "formal or informal, on or off the record . . . during or outside working hours" unless they are specially trained, authorised and do so through the press office, so that there is time to "promote the work/position of the council and to present it in a positive a light as possible". No comment.

Irish Independent

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