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High-rise Dublin City

Dublin’s World Heritage Site designation threatened by height and conservation policies
Kevin Duff and Michael Smith

So ... City Councillors make planning policy
So ... City Councillors make planning policy

There was a terrible rumpus in Fine Gael and Labour as they realised they voted for the draft Dublin City Development Plan provisions on height – without understanding them. Not surprising really: the Irish Times totally misreported them also. And they are complicated. Management of course always manoeuvre these things and, in this case, describing the changes as “modest” when they were dramatic helped grease the voting wheels of some uncomprehending local councillors. The net result is management is very happy. After years of bitter ups and downs they finally got their way on height policy. Up. The plan is to allow future developments in excess of 16 storeys in three city centre locations – at Heuston and Connolly Stations and in the Docklands. Perhaps that’s not so bad, though more care was needed with the details.

Many councillors assumed Clonshaugh and Grangegorman would be removed from areas where mid-rise buildings would be allowed and that George’s Quay would be removed from areas where high-rise would be allowed. But the draft did not remove them. In the Inner city up to 25m (8 residential storeys) is to be considered lo-rise for all development.  The City Manager admitted at the Dec 2nd Dublin City Council (DCC) meeting that, “The predominant height of new development in the city will be 25m”. This will radically change the face of Dublin and compromise the human scale that is its unique selling point. In the Outer City – outside the canals – permitted heights are to be 19 metres (six storeys) with heights of 25m for office blocks within 1km of rail lines. DCC officials know that Dublin is not a low density city because a study done by them in 2003 found that, “The density of persons per hectare for the DCC area is comparable with the corresponding figures for cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen”. In any event there is an uneven correlation between hi-rise and high-density.

The building height policy was agreed by 28 votes for, to 18 against, with six abstentions. Fine Gael and Labour Councillors voted for the Bermondsey vision. Labour Councillors Oisin Quinn and Dermot Lacey proposed and seconded it. Labour’s Mary Freehill did the honourable thing as usual but Emer Costello, the Lord Mayor, voted for the plan and the likes of Fine Gael’s leader on the Council, Gerry Breen, performed a planning policy pirouette before collapsing in a heap of thanks to management for facilitating his viewpoint.  Management must have been amused since Councillor Breen has traditionally been negative on hi-rise. Independent Mannix Flynn, scourge of speculators, gave an emotional speech saying the city had always been miserable and now we needed something completely different, hi-rise, like New York or Singapore. When he sat down he was enveloped in rarely accorded applause. Fianna Fáil, spearheaded by new man on the block, Jim O’Callaghan, amazingly opposed the policy.

Last November, Environment Minister John Gormley submitted Georgian Dublin among a list of potential world heritage sites for consideration by the international heritage body, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), on grounds of its “outstanding cultural significance”. If successful, it would join locations such as the Taj Mahal in India and the Grand Canyon in the US. However, DCC is pursing policies which would undermine the application.

  • The current Draft Dublin City Development Plan opens the door to widespread hi-rise.
  • For a number of years, DCC has flouted national guidelines and its own Development Plan provisions on building height and conservation. Many of its decisions get changed as a result of appeals to An Bord Pleanála.
  • There is an absence of controls for management of the public realm of Georgian Dublin. For example:
  • Orbital Route signage scheme, 2003 An initial signage mix-up farcically left dozens of bare H-shaped poles standing throughout the visually sensitive Georgian areas. Following a Six One news report in January 2007, DCC pledged to, “remove some 180 signposts”. In fact, new signs were made up to fit the poles.
  • Water Metering project, 2007-’08 This infrastructural project resulted in the fitting of a plastic-cover meter in the pavement outside every premises in Georgian Dublin. In order to facilitate this, sections of the beautiful and extensively-surviving antique granite pavements of the area were lifted.
  • College Green Bus Gate, 2009 Most recently, the Bus Gate works included excessive and poorly-designed signage adding to visual clutter in the area, and smashed up antique granite paving and setts along the fronts of the Bank of Ireland and Trinity College.

Written submissions on the draft city development plan 2011-2017 can be made up until 4:40PM on Friday, 12th March 2010.