DOCKLANDS DISASTER

“ An unholy trinity of politicians, developers and bankers were given free rein in the docklands and our community suffered, and will continue to suffer for decades to come.”
- East Wall community activist Joe Mooney


The legacy of the Dublin Development Docklands Authority looks set to be communities left with derelict sites and taxpayers forced to pick up the 1bn bill through NAMA, writes Scott Millar.


SOMEWHERE in Environment Minister John Gormley’s office lies a report that, it is claimed, will rock the Government to the core.
It is an investigation into the possible conflicts of interest, or worse, which influenced the work of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), whose failures are expected to result in more than 1 billion worth of toxic property loans being hoisted on the taxpayer through NAMA.
Ironically, the report was compiled by current authority chairman, Niamh Brennan, the wife of former Justice Minister Michael McDowell.

In 2007, there was much amusement, in an otherwise listless general election campaign, when Mr Gormley confronted Mr McDowell.
Insults were traded, with Mr Gormley accusing the then PD leader of putting political survival before investigating allegations of Fianna Fáil corruption — an incident quickly christened the “Battle of Ranelagh”.
According to former Green senator Deirdre De Burca, opposition politicians and local community activists in the Dublin docklands, Mr Gormley is showing the same appetite for political survival before transparency by not moving quickly to place the DDDA report in the public domain.
For the tight knit communities of Dublin’s docklands the disaster that the authority has become has left much more than financial scares.
Joe Mooney, a community representative from the East Wall area, said for years they have been trying to highlight the DDDA’s appalling behaviour.
“ We were ignored, because so many had a vested interest. Much of what concerned us is now common knowledge, and those that were negligent are now pretending to be surprised.”
The East Wall area is littered with apartment and office blocks abandoned half way through construction.
Overshadowing the adjacent Spencer Dock is the bare eight-storey concrete skeleton of what was to be Anglo Irish Bank’s new headquarters.
Where the docklands authority committed to creating a 15 million “Linear Park”, gravel and disused building material lie strewn along a canal. Similar commitments to a build a 6m primary school and funding for education programmes are yet to materialise, although a DDDA spokeswoman said these plans had not been abandoned but rather delayed.
Surveying the desolate landscape, Mr Mooney added: “An unholy trinity of politicians, developers and bankers were given free rein in the docklands and our community suffered, and will continue to suffer for decades to come.”
The DDDA was supposed to be the model for a Celtic Tiger-era fast track development body that would provide both financial and social dividends.
In theory, Bertie Ahern’s Government sought to appoint a board to bring together the “skills” of property developers, state planners and risk taking bankers, with input from local communities, to turn the dilapidated docklands on both sides of the Liffey into a new hub for the capital.
Established in 1997, the docklands board was chaired by businessman Lar Bradshaw, with a larger advisory council that included community representatives.
As resident Marie O’Reilly recalls all the decision making power remained with the board. “There
was to be a veneer of community involvement but all they could do was observe and complain but there was no influence on decision making.”
THE development was to proceed in a series of phases with various private consortiums coming together to finance, build and then sell sectors, with huge profits envisaged. Problems began to emerge with the Spencer Dock development.
This collection of largely disused dockyards spanned over one fifth, 52 acres, of the entire area.
The consortium that came together to develop the site comprised of Treasury Holdings, led by Fianna Fáil aligned developer Johnny Ronan, developer Harry Crosbie and the largest land holder CIÉ, a semi-state body.
Concerns that lands owned by a semi-state were being subsumed into what was a largely private scheme were raised by community representatives, to no effect.
One “public relations representative” retained by the consortium was ex-Fianna Fáil advisor Frank Dunlop, currently serving a prison sentence for non-associated acts of corruption.
Residents raised concerns over the height of buildings, lack of amenities and the clear segregation between social housing units for locals and private apartments that were envisaged being purchased by young professional newcomers. The docklands authority had initially committed to developments being mixed.
An often bitter and extended planning hearing stretched from 1999 into 2000. Residents became increasingly concerned about DDDA board members’ commercial interests overlapping with their planning role.
Ms O’Reilly recalls: “Instead of remaining a planning authority, they decided to jump the fence to become a developer. As we looked into those running the DDDA, we found loads of overlapping business and political connections.”
In March 2001, a North Wall Community Association submission raised “fundamental criticism”
concerning a proposed development.
“ In relation to this particularly planning scheme, if argued, total reliance would be placed on seven current or future members of the DDDA board, all appointed by the Government and most of whom have no planning expertise whatever. On the contrary, most of the current board have strong business connections.”
Complainants found themselves labelled “cranks”; they claim funding for community groups through DDDA levies became political.
An East Wall resident association planning submission from 2001 boldly stating community groups were being “blackmailed” into ceasing objections by a docklands authority grant system that fostered “financial dependency” with “community concerns becoming second to keeping in favour with figures within the authority.”
More concerns were raised when the authority increasingly turned to implementing so-called Section 25 developments. This referred to a exemption in the DDDA act that allowed the authority remove some developments from normal planning procedures, crucially removing objectors right to appeal to an increasingly troublesome An Bord Pleanála. One developer is recalled telling residents after he lost a planning appeal, “f**k that, I’ll get it on the section 25.”
In practice, section 25s made the Environment Minister the final arbitrator on planning decisions.
The power was used by then minister Dick Roche, when he signed off on the controversial North Lotts scheme.
In October 2004, the Spencer Dock Development Company received loans of 390m. The largest tranche came from Anglo Irish Bank, whose then chief executive, Seanie Fitzpatrick, had joined the DDDA board in 1998.
Less than a month after the funding was secured, the authority’s chairman Lar Bradshaw was appointed an Anglo director. Two years later, Anglo also backed a consortium, including the DDDA and developer Bernard McNamara with a loan of 412m for the Irish Glass Bottlers site in the south docklands — this site is now derelict.
Claims of a cosy relationship were raised in the Dáil on November 4, 2004, by local TD Tony Gregory.
“ Some of the (DDDA) board members, including the chairman, are associated with Anglo Irish Bank, which is now funding the largest development in the whole north docklands, a development to which they, as board members, granted the planning permission in the first place. Is it any wonder local residents’ leaders expressed serious concerns regarding the Spencer Dock development, where planning permission was granted in contravention of the docklands own master plan while the views of the community representatives on the docklands’ council were ignored?
“ The minister must surely agree that a very serious conflict of interest exists somewhere. I ask the minister whether it is time to review the membership of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.”
In response, Mr Roche accepted that the “membership of the board is drawn from a relatively narrow pool” but claimed a “code of conduct” prevented conflicts of interest imposing on decisions. “Given the nature of the activity of the DDDA, and the nature of the board, there will inevitably be areas of overlap but to suggest that is the same thing as wrongdoing is wrong,” he added.
With the legacy for most docklands communities being half build projects, little of the promised social dividend and a massive bill for the state, Mr Roche’s assertion maybe sorely tested.
Although the community activists wrote to Niamh Brennan asking to meet her to address outstanding concerns, they were not accommodated.
It is a omission that Joe Mooney finds perplexing, as he does the prospect of former Dublin port and CIÉ lands being taken into NAMA. “In the case of these lands going into NAMA, it would seem the state is to use public funds to buy lands it originally owned, that’s just beyond me.”