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An Taisce says it saved State from €752m in impaired loans

The National Heritage body said its successful appeals against unsustainable planning applications over the past decade have saved the State between €505 – €752 million.

Image: viZZZual.com via Creative Commons/Flickr

THE NATIONAL HERITAGE body says it has saved Ireland from incurring likely impaired loans of between €505 million and €752 million over the past decade by lodging appeals against unsuitable proposed developments around the country.

In a report released yesterday, An Taisce noted that 80 per cent of the planning applications objections it lodged over a ten-year period were upheld by An Bord Pleanála. It said that this resulted in savings of ten of millions of euro for the State, as it obviated the granting of loans “which would now likely be impaired be impaired and purchased by Nama” or would remain with financial institutions.

The report also raised  concerns over the value of Nama’s development land portfolio in coming years – predicting that the value will “plummet”.

‘Tremendously high’ success rate of appeals

An Taisce said that, in addition to its roles in education and heritage conservation, it was also the prescribed body to act as a national independent watchdog for the Irish planning system, and identified its responsibilities as championing proper planning, environmental protection and responsible development.

The heritage body said that the “tremendously high” success rate of its appeals to An Bord Pleanála, and recent history as evidenced by the Mahon Tribunal, indicates that its position on planning matters over the past decade has been entirely justified and has “yielded significant financial savings”.

An Taisce broke down the estimated loan value, in terms of the range of borrowings, of applications that did not go ahead due to its objections:

  • €140 – €190 million saved via objections to business parks proposed in remote and unserviced locations

Examples: County Meath, M3 – Rennicks site, Royal Gateway Site, and ‘SMART’ park at Carton House, in Wicklow between Newtown-mount-Kennedy and Kilcoole, and in South Tipperary, west of Carrick-on-Suir.

  • €85 – €142 million saved via objections to hotel and holiday home development proposed in unserviced locations, or otherwise unsustainable

Examples: three hotels proposed along the M7 at Kill, Palmerston Demesne and Monasterevin, in County Wexford at Curracloe, in County Louth at Omeath, at Skibbereen in County Cork, Lough Key in County Roscommon, at Killaloe in County Clare, and Whitfield in County Waterford.

  • €45 – €55 million saved via objections to housing development in ecologically and/or visually sensitive areas

Examples: beside the rivers and lakes of the Shannon catchment, in Connemara in County Galway, Lough Oughter in County Cavan, and in West Cork and West Kerry.

  • €35 – €45 million via objections to remotely-located nursing homes refused permission for being too distant from services

Examples: in counties Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Offaly, Mayo and Waterford.

  • €200 – €320 million saved via objections to over-scaled urban development principally in Dublin

Examples: Chancery Street motor taxation office, the wide range of development proposed at Ballsbridge, at the Carlton site on O’Connell St, at Arnotts behind the GPO, the former ESB offices on Fleet St and skyscraper proposals for Bridgefoot St.

Value of Nama’s development land portfolio will “plummet”

The report highlighted the link between bad planning and austerity, saying that the “unfettered zoning of land for new development by councils was a critical component of the toxic mix that created Ireland’s property bubble and financial crisis”.

It noted that, in 2008, Ireland had almost enough zoned land to almost double the national population to 8 million, with 42,000 hectares having residential zoning, almost all of which was greenfield land – and noted those figures did not take account of the “thousands of hectares” of land zoned for mixeduse, industrial, retail, commercial and other uses.

An Taisce said that zoning vastly inflated the value of land “turning green fields into ‘fields of gold’, providing an easy conduit to cheap credit and facilitating property speculation”. This behaviour contributed to the financial crisis and the creation of Nama, it added.

Accusing county councils across the country of “completely abandoning their fiduciary responsibilities and acting wholly contrary to national planning policy”, An Taisce noted that approximately 40 per cent of the €75 billion property portfolio transferred to Nama is categorised as development land.

It continued:

Much of what was hastily rezoned to ‘development’ is in truth pasture and tillage land for farming, and as it is officially reclassified to agriculture over the coming years, the value of Nama’s development land portfolio will plummet from a paper figure of €30 billion to a single digit figure, crystallising tens of billions in losses for taxpayers.

However, the report noted that the direct Nama loss did not take account of the additional billions to be written down on non-NAMA development loans, which it said would remain with financial institutions as nonperforming liabilities.

The 9 worst councils in Ireland’s planning system>

The full State of the Nation review by An Taisce>

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