Monday 1 October 2007

U2 hotel pool plan may not wash with council

U2's plan to revamp the Clarence Hotel was saved in the nick of time, when Bono responded to a list of tricky queries from planning officials on the final day of deadline.

The rock supergroup had applied to Dublin City Council to carry out a €150m development of the Clarence, their landmark property in the heart of the capital. But the council's planning department said they had to answer a list of 18 key questions before a deadline date of September 26. They submitted their answers that morning.

U2's biggest challenge was to justify why they should be allowed to demolish four neighbouring listed buildings as part of their idea of making the Clarence, "the most spectacular hotel in Europe", erecting a skycatcher atrium resembling a spaceship on the top which would be visible from all over the city.

Under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act, authorities will not grant permission for the demolition of a protected structure, save in exceptional circumstances and such a move requires the strongest justification for doing so.

It was a challenge they failed, according to former head of An Taisce, Michael Smith.

Mr Smith said: "Protected structures can only be demolished in really exceptional cases. But in U2's response, they give reasons such as how their type of clientele will want the use of a huge swimming pool and they need to knock buildings to get the pool in. I can't see how that is a justifiable reason.

"If the council grants permission, I believe it will be illegal and I will go all the way to the High Court myself to stop it."

Sources say Bono and The Edge -- who own the hotel along with their property partner Paddy McKillen -- have little hope that their plans will go ahead. According to one: "Bono says he wants to change the mediocrity of Dublin. He says he hardly goes in to the Clarence anymore, because it is has so far made such losses that he finds it too depressing.

"But he knows that the issue with demolishing a protected building will not go away and even if the council grant permission, An Bord Pleanala will reject it at appeal."

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, encompassing the former Dollard printing works and four other Georgian buildings on Wellington Quay.

Objectors to the plan include An Taisce, the heritage trust and the Irish Georgian Society.

Bono and The Edge bought the hotel in 1992. Despite being the choice for international celebrities, it has incurred significant losses.

Irish Independent

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