The latest flight of the earls was led in recent years by Cork developer John Fleming who took refuge in bankruptcy in England in order to avoid the clutches of the Irish revenue and assorted creditors after he was left with debts of more than €1 billion.
Fleming was responsible for a string of residential, commercial and hotel developments in a property empire that stretched across Ireland, Britain, Cyprus and the US but ended in a modest terraced house in Billericay in Essex.
As well as losing his extensive property assets which included the five-star Fota Island hotel and golf course, and the Inchydoney Spa and hotel developments, in Cork, Fleming left a massive eyesore in Sandyford, south Dublin where the unfinished 14-storey Sentinel building dominates the landscape in the middle of the unfinished development.
But there is more to this failed business venture than meets the eye as one of the reasons why his ambitious plans for the area failed was a delay incurred by the developer following an objection to An Bord Pleanála to the planning permission granted to John J Fleming Construction in January 2007 by Dun Laoghaire –Rathdown County Council for a mixed scheme at Blackthorn Drive in the Sandyford Industrial Estate.
Strangely, the first objection to the Council, lodged in February 2007, came from an organisation called Stillorgan Planning Focus with an address at 22a Brookfield Avenue, Blackrock, which is located a fair distance from Sandyford, in more residential climes.
Signed by one E James Taylor, who lives in Mount Merrion, the objection letter claimed that the plan represented an over-development of the former Allegro site, that the height was disproportionate and that it was “unattractive, unimaginative and uninspiring”.
After planning was granted, an appeal to An Bord Pleanála was lodged by the ‘Planning Focus’ but withdrawn within weeks, in May 2007. The planning permission was upheld but by this time Fleming, along with many other developers, was feeling the cold wind of a property slow down and ultimately declared himself bankrupt in England three years later.
What remains unclear is the motivation behind the objection and what if any contact Fleming had with the parties involved in the so-called Stillorgan Planning Focus. When local Green Party activist and former councillor, Tom Kivlehan, visited the address for ‘Focus’ in Blackrock he discovered that no such entity was known at the address.
Contacted by Village, Eamon James Taylor said that he could not recall the 2007 planning objection and appeal to the Sandyford scheme. he said that the Stillorgan Planning Focus was made up of people who drank in a pub in Blackrock. He could not recall the names of any of his c0-objectors or the name of the pub. He said that he not been in good health in recent years and was unable to explain why the objection was made and the appeal suddenly withdrawn. He said that he had never met the developer, John Fleming, and did not recall the development to which he and his drinking friends had objected, or why.
“Planning records indicate that this was the only objection ever submitted by the Stillorgan Planning Focus despite the scale of development in the south city and county during those years,” said Kivlehan. Attempts to contact John Fleming at the London-based consultancy, Crowley-Young, with which he is associated were unsuccessful.