Monday 17 September 2007

U2 cutting it fine with hotel plans

Protected structure may hinder skycatcher glass dome proposal

U2's plan to transform the Clarence Hotel is hanging in the balance, as the rock supergroup have just one more week left to answer a list of key questions from the planning authorities about the project.

Bono and the Edge - who own the property in the heart of the capital - applied to Dublin City Council earlier this year to give the Clarence a €150 million revamp.

Their ambitious plan is to make the Clarence "the most spectacular hotel in Europe", complete with a spaceship-like glass dome on top, visible from all over the city.

Their proposal to quadruple the size of their landmark property, demolishing neighbouring Georgian buildings and rebuilding the hotel itself, has been the subject of a number of objections.

Officials in the council's planning department delayed their application in March, saying the owners must answer a raft of 18 questions before it could be considered.

They were given six months to respond -- but have yet to do so and the cut-off time is looming.

With the deadline set for September 26, the Clarence Partnership have just over one week left to provide the additional information requested.

A source in the planning department said: "They are cutting it very fine, leaving it until the eleventh hour. Or perhaps they are using all the time they have, as some of the questions are very complex."

In a letter to Bono and the Edge, the department pointed out that under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act, authorities will not grant planning permission for the demolition of a protected structure, save in exceptional circumstances.

It stated that it requires the strongest justification to do so and wants the owners to address this matter in detail.

A significant number of the queries relate to the ambitious skycatcher glass dome, a Viking boat-shaped atrium stretching from the basement to the rooftop.

It asked the applicants to clarify the numbers and purpose of all proposed openings onto both Wellington Quay and Essex Street East and it wants more information and details on drawings and plans and requests clarification on the nature of the proposed retail area.

Bono wants to transform the 44-bedroom boutique hotel into a nine-storey, 141-bedroom five-star hotel and spa complete with signature restaurant, bar and fresh food market.

The new hotel will encompass the former Dollard printing works and four other Georgian buildings on Wellington Quay.

Objectors to the plan include An Taisce, the heritage trust, who say the proposal is completely inappropriate for both the protected structures and their historic city-centre location, and the Irish Georgian Society, which believes that the development would dwarf adjoining buildings and dominate the Liffey quays.

The Clarence hotel was established in 1852 and bought by Bono and The Edge in 1992. Despite being the hotel of choice for international celebrities, it has incurred losses.

One of the biggest critics of the proposed Clarence revamp is conservationist and former head of An Taisce, Michael Smith, who described it as the "bastardisation" of the hotel.

He said: "The city council has indulged them and their property partner Paddy McKillen long enough."

Irish Independent

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