By Seán McCárthaigh
Dunnes Stores is facing a potential annual tax bill of €360,000 after losing a planning battle with a local authority which had placed a site, valued at €12m and owned by the supermarket group in south Dublin, on the vacant sites register.
The battle is not the only one facing Dunnes Stores — it has also lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála against the decision of Limerick City and County Council to place its former stores on Sarsfield St on the vacant sites register. That store closed in August 2008.
In Dublin, An Bord Pleanála has rejected the appeal by Dunnes Stores against the decision by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to put the site of land near its flagship Cornelscourt store on the new register for vacant sites. The ruling by the planning appeals authority will make the chain liable for an annual levy of thousands of euro.
Dunnes had resisted the placement of its lands, located on a site of almost two hectares off the Old Bray Rd in Foxrock, on the register.
A report by An Bord Pleanála said the majority of the site, which is zoned for housing, was overgrown, while some of it was in use as a car park for which it did not have planning permission at the time it was placed on the vacant sites register, in February.
It was authorised by a separate grant of permission a short time later. Under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, the council said it was considered there was a need for housing in the area and that the Dunnes-owned site was zoned for housing.
Officials said they were also satisfied the site had been vacant for a period in excess of 12 months and did not have an active use.
Dunnes argued the council had failed to fully implement all provisions of the legislation in assessing the suitability of the land to be placed on the vacant sites register.
It also claimed the site was not vacant or idle as “a significant portion” was in use as a staff car park for which temporary planning permission had been granted last February.
In its ruling, An Bord Pleanála said the relevant legislation stipulated that it should not have any regard for any unauthorised use of a site in consideration of whether it was vacant or not.
An inspector said the car park area only accounted for around a quarter of the site.
The vacant site levy was introduced by the Government last year as a measure to address the housing crisis by preventing property owners from hoarding land.
Owners of land on registers from last January were liable to pay a levy of 3% of the market value of the site, starting from early next year. Dunnes Stores will not be liable to pay the levy until January 2020 at the earliest.