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Archive for October 22nd, 2012

“As Environment Minister I not only want to protect the environment, but also do everything I can to create jobs and develop the economy. This scheme will help with construction jobs and I hope create opportunities in the retail sector” Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Atwood today, announcing a major new retail development in Newtownards

It has become quite noticeable that the Northern Ireland minister ultimately responsible for planning decisions is speeding up approvals, and ministers on this side of the Border might do worse than study processes and decision-making at the Department of the Environment in Belfast where the SDLP’s Alex Atwood is the Minister for the Environment.

Today, we learn via the BBC that a major new scheme in Newtownards, just outside Belfast in county Down has been given the green-light for a GBP 50m (€61m) 200,000 sq ft retail development on the outskirts of Newtownards in an area known as Castlebawn. The developer is Castlebawn Limited which is a joint venture with Barney “wee Barry McGuigan” Eastwood’s company and MAR Properties. MAR is in NAMA, though it is unclear if this development is subject to a NAMA loan or if NAMA will be assisting with funding the development. We recently learned that NAMA has advanced GBP 100m (€122m) to Northern Irish developers, though the bulk of this is expected to be spent in Britain on schemes that will be managed and directed from Northern Ireland.

Last month, developer and businessman Paddy McKillen received the green-light on his own separate scheme in Newtownards which will see a major extension built on to the Ards shopping centre. The environment minister today says that the town is big enough to  accommodate both developments.

On this side of the Border, we have a much criticised planning system which developers have described as capricious. And you really have to be amazed at the preciousness of some planning objections, especially in Dublin where the most common architectural style is 21st century “slightly dilapidated” and even on our most expensive shopping street, Grafton Street, there is a complete mishmash of architectural styles amid the juice bars, gift shops, mobile phone outlets and fast food joints – Bond Street or the Champs Elysee, it aint. Perhaps if some of the blockages in our own planning system were to be addressed then we too might see more serious inroads into unemployment in the construction sector.

[The press release from Minister Alex Atwood is here]

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This morning, the developer behind the troubled Priory Hall complex in Donaghmede, north Dublin was in the High Court, trying to reverse NAMA’s seizure of his €10m former home on upmarket Ailesbury Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Thomas McFeely (Tom McFeely) was ultimately evicted at the behest of NAMA on 10th August 2012 but was back in court this morning claiming, according to 98FM “my wife and family are out of the family home on the basis of an officer of the Court telling lies”

The case this morning was adjourned until Tuesday 30th October 2012, according to 98FM to allow Tom obtain new legal representation as it seems he has parted company with his former lawyer, on account of  “financial reasons” but this morning’s hearing might be best remembered for Tom’s claim, reported by 98FM that “he’d been lied to, and held up a photograph of a house he says NAMA lawyers told him he could go and live in. He showed the photo to the Court asking, “Does anyone want to see this?””

NAMA was asked for a comment but none was available at time of writing. For the 250 residents of Priory Hall who are living in a mishmash of temporary accommodation facing an uncertain future as regards living arrangements but alas a certain future with mortgage payments, this claim has obviously rankled – that NAMA might provide Tom McFeely with accommodation. It should be said that the loan underpinning the PrioryHall complex was not acquired by NAMA and that NAMA has provided temporary accommodation on a commercial arms-length basis to some of the forcibly evacuated residents who continue to face a grim future.

If a comment from NAMA is forthcoming, it will be posted here.

UPDATE: 23rd October, 2012. NAMA has denied Tom McFeely’s claim “completely”

UPDATE: 30th October 2012. The case returned to the High Court this morning and despite Tom McFeely seeking a longer adjournment, the case has now been scheduled for an hour loong hearing on 19th November 2012, with NAMA saying the matter was urgent because it was preventing the sale by the Agency of the property on Ailesbury Road. NAMA is reported to have described the appeal as “entirely unmeritorious”

UPDATE: 19th November 2012. RTE reports that the High Court has dismissed the McFeely appeal in what appear quite summary terms. RTE says the judge, Mr Justice John Hedigan had commented this morning that it was an “open and shut case”

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Well there was speculation going around Dublin on Friday afternoon about it, but this morning NAMA has confirmed in a press release – available from their representatives, Gordon MRM here – that the 17% stake that had been owned by Irish Life and Permanent has been sold to a British concern called Walbrook Partners LLP, a company formed in May 2011 by Michael Keeley, Geoffrey Broomhead and Simon Haworth.

You might recall that Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency which has the final say on the calculation of countries’ national debt said earlier this year that the 17% stake in NAMA owned by ILP was causing it concern since the State now owns 99.5% of Permanent TSB and all of Irish Life, and as a consequence the State was majority investor in NAMA so the NAMA bonds might have to come onto the national balance sheet. The sale of the ILP stake had been announced in April 2012, but despite persistent questioning in the Dail, Minister Noonan refused to identify the buyer.

No details of the purchase price of the stake are available yet. We don’t know the exact terms under which these shares have been issued. NAMA has paid almost €10m in dividends to the three “independent” stakeholders Bank of Ireland, AIB (stake now owned by South African investor Prescient Capital) and ILP (now owned by Walbrook). These dividends were paid despite NAMA racking up €1bn plus losses. Nice investment!

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