Decisions made this week by Dublin city councillors will determine the height and scale of future developments, writes FRANK MACDONALD
WHETHER NEW buildings in Dublin should be relatively high or low has become the most contentious issue confronting councillors as they begin a series of special meetings today to deal with the draft Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017.
On the one hand, An Taisce maintains the current draft prepared by city planners “will fuel a future splurge of land speculation and undermine decades of the planning control that has maintained Dublin as a historic low-rise major European city”.
On the other, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has warned that attempts by councillors to cap building heights “would result in the relocation of office and other commercial development outside Dublin . . . and act as a serious deterrent to urban regeneration”.
At issue is what constitutes a “high-rise” building. According to the planners, it would be 16 storeys or more, with “medium-rise” defined as eight to 16 storeys and “low-rise” as up to eight storeys – roughly double the prevailing building height in the core of the city.
Several councillors are seeking to reinstate a key paragraph in the current city plan that is omitted from the draft.
This states that the council “acknowledges the intrinsic quality of Dublin as a low- to medium-rise city and considers that it should predominantly remain so.
“Taller building clusters . . . are only likely to be achieved in the Docklands, at Heuston and in the larger predominantly non-residential key developing areas, where there is good public transport links and sites of sufficient size to create their own character.”
According to the planners, continuing with this policy “would seriously undermine the strategic approach to developing areas” such as Grangegorman and the zones around Connolly Station and Tara Street station, where further high-rise development is envisaged.
The planners say they have “no objection” to a more specific definition of low-rise “provided it does not result in a policy cap of 18m (six-storey residential or four-storey office) over the city, as several of the amendments tabled by councillors are now seeking to do.
“The essential proposition in these motions is that . . . the definition of high should be reduced from 50m to 30m with mid-rise defined as 18m to 30m; and all the remaining areas of the city to be retained at a maximum height of 18m”, the manager’s report says.
This “would have severe repercussions for the city in relation to economic renewal and competitiveness”, it warns, adding that the “inevitable result would be a flight of office development” to surrounding local authority areas and “less rates income”.
The planners also maintain that a 30m-cap on medium-rise buildings would “inevitably result in bulky ‘groundscapers’ rather than more elegant buildings such as Liberty Hall” (now planned to be demolished), saying this would “undermine the character of the city”. They say a six-storey cap on residential development would also “undermine the promotion of vibrant new, mixed-use neighbourhoods”, such as Herberton (built on the site of Fatima Mansions), where the height ranges from three to eight storeys.
An amendment by some councillors seeking an “urban design statement” on all proposals two storeys higher than existing buildings in the vicinity is “considered unduly onerous” by the planners, given the “numerous safeguards” incorporated in the draft plan.
Their drive for more height and density in the city is strongly endorsed by the CIF.
Its director of planning, Hubert Fitzpatrick, said if proposed caps were imposed in certain areas, “investment . . . will go elsewhere, representing a significant opportunity cost for the entire economy”.
Limits on the height of apartment buildings would “push developments away from areas that have seen substantial investment in public transportation and related physical and social infrastructure”, resulting in “further urban sprawl and continued underdevelopment”.
But An Taisce’s heritage officer, Ian Lumley, said it was clear that the city council’s management was “pushing through” a new Draft Development Plan for adoption by elected councillors, intended to fuel a future property boom by “scrapping” existing controls on height.
“Amid the general fiasco that has characterised Irish planning over the last 60 years, there was at least one achievement of maintaining Dublin as one of Europe’s low-rise major historic cities”, he said.
For whatever reason, this was to be “disregarded” by the draft plan.
“Rather that providing clarity, the plan is going to create years of planning rows and appeals to An Bord Pleanála if a new boom is generated,” he said.
“It would only take a few badly sited out-of-scale buildings to irrevocably damage the city’s irreplaceable character.”