Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who really owns Public Assets?

The controversy over plans to redevelop Dun Laoghaire baths raises some interesting questions about ownership and use of public assets and monies.

I’ll try to curb my dislike of Richard Boyd Barrett and his infiltration of every possible cause with his SWP agenda. I’ll attempt to hide my contempt for the protest marchers, most of whom didn’t use the baths when they were open and wouldn’t use them in future if they were re-opened. Some indeed simply don’t want them re-opened under any circumstance, they would prefer retention of the current eye-sore rather than see hordes of Northsiders arriving on the DART. You know the ones I’m talking about - shirts off with tattoos on display and their toddlers walking because their buggies are full of Dutch Gold lager.

The real issue with funding the baths goes back to the 1970’s when Fianna Fail abolished domestic rates in one of their brilliant election manifesto strokes. If, thanks to the protesters, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Co Council now find it politically impossible to involve private investment in much needed redevelopment of the baths and the sea-front, they must go cap in hand to The Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government seeking a capital grant and ongoing funding to meet the annual running and maintenance costs.

Alternatively, they can leave matters as they are - the cider, drugs and underage-sex parties can continue as usual at the back of the East Pier - currently a no-go area for most people, even during day-light hours.

The Real Issue

A couple of hundred yards down the seafront from the baths is the harbour itself. This public asset is owned and managed by the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a semi-state company whose sole shareholder is The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. The Harbour company made a profit of €2.5m in the year to December 2002, the last accounts on their website.

However, the Harbour company has some interesting developments in train:
The Harbour Yard, located on Crofton Road behind the Town Hall, is currently being redeveloped as a major office, apartment and retail complex - due for completion in 2008.
The Carlisle Pier - currently in the planning phase with an application for a major residential, office and retail complex on the site of the old mail-boat pier.
In addition, the new Marina has been a major success for the Harbour Company, providing a strong and growing annual revenue stream.

In short, the Harbour Company has a strong and growing revenue stream, with major incremental revenues due from the Harbour Yard and Carlisle Pier developments which are underway. These assets are all owned by the taxpayer, but the revenues generated are ring-fenced and only applied to the actual areas under the direct control of the Harbour Company itself.

The company could, in theory, decide to spend that money on the East and West Pier refurbishment, using fine Italian marble and gold-plated handrails. There does not appear to be any current mechanism for it to transfer surplus funds to the Co Council for use in refurbishing the rest of the sea-front.

Perhaps an alternative solution would be for Dun Laoghaire Co Council to transfer ownership of the sea-front to the Harbour Company?

Now what would Boyd Barrett and his bird-brained followers find to protest about there? I’m sure they’d manage to find something to object to.

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