Monday, July 31, 2006

Anyone for swimming or just going through the motions?

Another summer passes and the eyesore of the former public baths on Dun Laoghaire seafront remains bricked up.

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Co Council (DLRCoCo) claim that any development project must be self-financing unless aid is provided by the Dept of the Environment.

DLRCoCo’s own proposal last year was scuppered by protests from largely "muddle-class" marchers - those who never used the facility when it was open and will never use it if it is re-opened. To date, there is no sign of support from Minister Dick Roche.

Within spitting distance of the long-derelict baths is Dun Laoghaire harbour. This public asset is owned and managed by Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, a semi-state company whose sole shareholder is The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

The Harbour company made a profit of €2.5m in 2002, the last accounts available on their website. The Harbour company generates income from the various users of the harbour e.g. the Stena Line, Irish Lights, the various yacht clubs etc.. It also owns the recently built and very successful marina which will have further boosted those annual profits in the interim.

In addition, the Harbour Company is currently involved in the Harbour Yard development of a major office, shop and apartment complex beside the Town Hall. The delayed Carlisle Pier development will ultimately provide another huge boost to the finances of the Harbour Company.

Consequently, the Harbour Company has a strong and growing revenue stream, with major incremental annual revenues due from the Harbour Yard and Carlisle Pier developments when these are completed over the next few years.

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.

In summary, the taxpayer owns both the highly profitable harbour and the derelict baths but there does not appear to be any current mechanism for to use funds from one to refurbish and run the other. Surely the relevant Government ministers - Dick Roche (Environment) and Noel Dempsey ( Communications, Marine & Natural Resources) should be capable of resolving this anomaly?

Then again, probably not.

Footnote: A slight variant of this published as a letter in the Irish Times.

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