€10m State-owned plot avoids vacant-site fine

€10m State-owned plot avoids vacant-site fine

Justice minister Helen McEntee has previously announced that €15.4m would be allocated from the Courts Service’s annual budget towards the completion of courthouse capital projects. Picture: PA

One of the State’s most notable vacant sites was leased temporarily last year to a private developer, avoiding a fine associated with inclusion on the vacant sites register.

The plot, at Hammond Lane near Smithfield in north Dublin, has been the proposed location of the new Family Courts complex since 2012.

It was first acquired from match makers Maguire and Paterson in 1998 for roughly £5m. It has lain idle ever since.

The Office of Public Works, which manages the Hammond Lane site, has told the Public Accounts Committee that a temporary licence was granted to the developer in June 2019 allowing it to use the site as a building compound.

Until construction on the courts complex can begin, the developer will, as such, have responsibility for ensuring compliance with planning laws “and other regulation and for securing and maintaining the site”, the OPW said.

Dublin City Council approached the OPW announcing its intention to include Hammond Lane on the State’s vacant property register in October of last year.

That register was created in January 2017 with a view to forcing landowners to bring disused properties back into circulation in order to mitigate the housing crisis.

Charged at 7% in arrears, inclusion on the register would have seen the State liable for fines likely to total in the region of €700,000 per year on the €10m-valued property.

In January of this year, DCC informed the OPW that the site would not be entered on the register after all.

“It is the norm that, where possible, the OPW facilitates neighbouring construction projects by licensing part or all of a particular site to a construction company … where additional space is needed,” the OPW said.

“This is particularly relevant in highly populated urban settings where there may be limited space on a city-centre site.”

The OPW has responsibility for managing 2,500 State properties around the country. Since the creation of the Vacant Sites Register, the office has not had to pay any site levies.

The Courts Service first indicated its interest in acquiring the site with a view to constructing office accommodation and a new set of complexes for both the Supreme and Family courts in 2012.

The project has been in limbo for the majority of the intervening period. Earlier this year, Justice Minister Helen McEntee announced that €15.4m would be allocated from the Courts Service’s annual budget towards the completion of courthouse capital projects.

However, the estimated final cost of the development is a matter of speculation, having first reportedly been costed with projections of roughly €40m in 2015.

Speaking to the previous iteration of PAC last December, chief executive of the Courts Service Angela Denning said that the most recent appraisal of the site, dating from end 2017, put the cost of the project at €140.7m.

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