Wednesday, 7 January 2009

High-rise areas set out in latest draft plan

DUBLIN CITY Council's planners are to refine and clarify their latest draft policy on high-rise development before going for public consultations later this month - subject to the council's approval.

The current version of the draft policy, Maximising the City's Potential: A Strategy for Intensification and Height, takes on board criticisms of the original document published last January and the negative reaction to it at a series of public meetings.

The revised draft was described by one senior planning official as "an attempt to calm everyone down" - in particular by dropping an apparently blanket exception for permission to be granted for high-rise schemes of architectural quality, irrespective of location.

"One of the big problems with the original draft was those exceptions, and they're now gone," he said. "What we've done is to identify areas we think are suitable for high-rise development.

"Anything outside these areas would have to be subject to a local area plan."

The other option, he explained, would be for the council to make a variation of the city development plan to allow for a specific high- rise scheme in an area outside those formally designated as suitable for such development in the draft policy document.

The designated areas include an "eastern cluster" around George's Quay, Connolly Station and Spencer Dock, as well as the area around Heuston Station in the west and other locations such as Phibsboro, Coolock and the increasingly obsolete Naas Road.

Ballsbridge is not included, despite the fact that city planners gave approval for two major high-rise schemes on the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels site and the former Veterinary College site. An Bord Pleanála is due to rule on them by January 30th.

To allay public fears about random high-rise "eruptions", one of the main issues the planners are anxious to clarify involves a perception that permission would be granted for eight-storey buildings on single sites as a general rule-of-thumb in designated areas.

"People seem to have got it into their heads that we'll allow two- storey houses to be replaced by eight-storey apartments," said another senior planning official. "But we're not saying that. Developers are not going to get eight storeys everywhere."

Another senior planner said the policy document was "only suggesting consideration of three to eight storeys, subject to conditions", as standard heights for the redevelopment of sites that would be large enough to accommodate higher-density schemes.

In areas considered suitable for higher buildings, according to the draft policy, buildings could range in height from eight to 16 storeys or more - based on "key principles" of architectural quality, urban design, visual coherence and creating a network of public spaces.

Senior planners stress the over-riding importance of applying what one called "a very wide and deep notion of what constitutes sustainable development", including green design and "planning gain" - in other words, there have to be real benefits for the city.

They also emphasise that three-dimensional models of any high-rise proposal would have to be submitted with planning applications; a "3D" topographically correct model of the city is being assembled so that proposed high-rise buildings can be judged in context.

The planners aim to have the new policy adopted as a variation of the current city development plan.

However, this is ultimately a "reserved function" of the city council and, with local elections looming in June, there is concern that councillors may not adopt it.

Asked why, given the catastrophic collapse of construction activity, it could not wait until a new city plan is drafted in two years' time, one senior planner said they wanted to ensure that a coherent policy was in place well in advance of any upturn in the economy.

Irish Times

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