UCD earns €15 million in land swap agreement


Extra income invested in swimming pool, despite budget deficit

THE UNIVERSITY has received €15 million following a land swap deal which saw the Thornfield section of Belfield exchanged for a site which lies adjacent to the Belgrove Residence. In addition to the land transaction, UCD gained a significant cash payment, of which €10 million has been ringfenced to partly fund a 50 metre swimming pool in the new extended Student Centre development.

The property transaction was approved following a meeting of the university’s Finance, Remuneration and Asset Management Committee (FRAMC) in April 2008, despite reports that UCD would reach a projected deficit of €15.1 million for the 2007/2008 year.

Documents seen by The University Observer reveal that the profit made from the sale of the Thornfield land presented the university with an opportunity to substantially decrease the €15.1 million deficit. However, a decision was made to allocate €10 million as a contribution to the cost of the 50 metre swimming pool.

The Thornfield parcel of land is an area close to University Lodge, home of UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady and faces onto Donnybrook Green and Greenfield Manor, which are both private residential areas of Dublin 4. The parcel of land measures 1.28 hectares and currently contains a number of greenhouses that were used by the School of Biology & Environmental Science.

The Roebuck land, for which Thornfield has been exchanged, is a space of 1.3
hectares. It is located beside the Belgrove Residences and is considered to be an attractive option for development as any new residences built there will form a larger accommodation complex with the Belgrove apartments and will be served by the existing infrastructure.

The decision to utilise the €10 million to fund the swimming pool was made as the Higher Education Authority (HEA) wrote to Dr Brady, describing an estimated university defi cit level of €16.5 million as “unacceptable”. The HEA then requested that UCD revise its budget so that the defi cit would be reduced in 2008, and eliminated in 2009.

UCD has agreed to vacate the Thornfield site by December 2009. The remaining €5 million gained in the transaction will be distributed with €1.5 million in transaction, financial, Thornfield precinct and other contingent costs. €1 million will be used to relocate the existing greenhouses on the Thornfield land, while €2.5 million will finance the refurbishment of the Dodder Valley sewer penstock.

Students’ Union (SU) President, Aodhán Ó Deá said that he agreed that the
profit made from the land swap could have been used to reduce the university’s deficit, explaining that “there was a deficit and that should have been their first priority”.

He stated that when the decision to ringfence the finance for the swimming pool was made the economy had not yet fallen into recession, adding that “the problem now is that they’ve gone too far – they moved the hockey pitch and they plan to start building work in a couple of weeks”.

Despite previously advising the university to clear its deficit within a year,
a spokesperson from the HEA acknowledged that there has been normal negociations with UCD to decide on how to clear the deficit. He stated that the HEA are “quite happy that within the constraints of the current financial position that UCD are seeming to manage their finances efficiently”.

When asked why the university chose not to spend the €10 million gained in the land swap on clearing the deficit, a university spokesperson declined to respond.