State will only buy €23m former greyhound stadium site for schools if rezoned

The Department of Education’s €23m purchase of a former greyhound track depends on the site’s planning status being changed by the local council to allow the construction of schools.

The sale of the six-acre Harold’s Cross stadium in Dublin 6, under an agreement announced by Education Minsiter Richard Bruton a fortnight ago, is key to helping the greyhound board Bord na gCon clear its €20m debts.

But ahead of the board returning to give evidence to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about its finances this morning, the Irish Examiner has learned that the sale might not go ahead if the appropriate zoning is not secured first, for schools to be built on the site.

When he announced on May 2 that an offer was accepted by Bord na gCon, Mr Bruton said that his department’s plans to build schools there for a growing local population would require a change in the current zoning.

In response to questions about whether it would be tied into the expensive deal even if the necessary planning changes were not made, the department said a condition of the purchase would be to have the zoning changed first to reflect its intended educational use.

The site is currently zoned for amenity and open space usage, under the Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017.

“Officials from this department have had preliminary discussions with officials from Dublin City Council regarding the zoning of the site,” a spokesperson said.

“The department intends to seek a change in zoning prior to contract closing, hence the contracts will reflect that the acquisition is subject to a change in zoning to facilitate school development,” he said.

Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne welcomed the stipulations but cautioned that a change in zoning would not guarantee success for any subsequent planning application for schools on the site.

“My party on the council, and I as party spokesperson, will be very supportive of the Department of Education in any plans it puts forward, because the most important thing is to provide school places for children,” Mr Byrne said.

The sale is also subject to approval by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Mr Bruton acknowledged at the Oireachtas Select Education Committee on Tuesday that the Harold’s Cross site was a “significant, expensive” site, but said that his department is facing rising land acquisition costs for school building projects.

Around €30m of this year’s €515m school capital budget is set aside for land costs to facilitate developments.

PAC chairman Seán Fleming said last night that members will be asking Bord na gCon representatives what effect the intended sale would have on the organisation’s ability to address its financial difficulties.

Bord na gCon officials have written to the PAC seeking to have increased security measures in place today, after grassroots greyhound fans jostled and criticised officials during a break in their meeting a fortnight ago, and after they finished giving evidence.

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