When Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett’s Treasury Holdings acquired land on the East Mountain in Howth in 1996, they had big plans for a residential development in what they described as the “less sensitive” part of their Howth holding and to donate the rest to Fingal County Council.
Bought from businessman Gerry McGuinness and Christopher Gaisford St Lawrence, Treasury Holdings were on the up and the purchase of this 300 acres site was seen as a crucial step in the company’s development. But it was just then that Minister for The Environment, Brendan Howlin placed a Special Amenity Area Order (SAAO) that stopped Treasury in its track, effectively freezing the area of land from development.
What particularly rattled Richard Barrett at the time, was that the Minister had intervened without consultation or even any discussion with the landowners and insisted that a constitutional action to the Supreme was their only recourse.
Mr Barrett blamed “political manoeuvrings” by a Ms Jean Finn, of the East Mountain Action Group, for Mr Howlin’s decision to intervene. “We didn’t buy the Hill of Howth to desecrate it and we don’t need lessons in environmental responsibility from Ms Finn or anyone else.” Barrett is reported to have said.
Whatever the upshot, the SAAO has secured the East Mountain for future generations, while Treasury Holdings didn’t last as long, imploding in 2012 under its mountain of debt, following the financial crisis.
If nothing, history may provide a salutary tale for Glenveagh, Tetrarch and Marlet. But it may also point to the need for a more strategic vision from Fingal Co. Council and rather than relying on the “foresight” of developers, a UK approach, where land is zoned by the council on the basis of need, may provide a more robust framework for development.
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