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January 7, 2009

Sean Dunne’s casting of himself as a victim a bit rich

Talking about the fate of Seán Dunne’s development in Ballsbridge, my county councillor father recalled a meeting of Meath County Council back in the 1970s. A councillor was pleading the case of a farmer who had applied for planning permission for two houses on his land. The farmer owed the then Agricultural Credit Corporation a lot of money – a not uncommon predicament in an era of high interest rates and wildly fluctuating land prices. He also had a daughter. His plan was to sell off one site to pay his debts and build a house for the daughter on the second. Though the councillor wrung his hands and embellished the sorry state of the farmer’s finances, Michael McFadden, the official in the planning department, was unmoved. “Bad debts make for bad planning,” he declared. McFadden has long retired and though my father still quotes him, too many forgot the axiom. In fact, county councils themselves were guilty of granting permission in order to pay debts – their own. A county like Meath that experienced a massive population explosion but no matching increase in central exchequer funding found itself under particular pressure. Levies paid by developers to the local authority on grant of permission were a tempting source of finance. Many suspect that some permissions were granted with the levy rather than the merits of the application in mind. Planners are now faced with applications knowing that a refusal could visit financial ruin on the developer.

The Irish Times