Sunday 18 November 2007

U2 finally get go-ahead for €150m hotel plan

U2 have finally found what they're looking for -- planning permission for a €150m revamp of the Clarence Hotel.

The rock supergroup have been given the green light by Dublin City Council to go ahead with controversial plans to turn the landmark property in Temple Bar into what Bono claims will be "the most spectacular hotel in Europe". His friend, former US President Bill Clinton, stayed at the hotel last night.

But conservationists and environmentalists have expressed outrage at the decision to allow Bono and The Edge to demolish four neighbouring listed buildings and erect a spaceship-style atrium on top.

Under planning law, council's should only give permission to demolish listed buildings "in exceptional circumstances".

Michael Smith, environmentalist and former head of An Taisce, the national heritage trust, has blasted the council's decision as "illegal" and accused U2 of "the biggest demolition of protected structures in Ireland in years".

Even the council's own City Conservation Architect, Clare Hogan, advised a refusal.

Ms Hogan said in her report, which was included in decision documents, that the planned development did not meet legal requirements. "The band were unable to provide exceptional circumstances as required under the Planning and Development Act 2000, to allow demolition of protected structures."

"The decision is reminiscent of the climate of 1960s speculative development."

Michael Smith -- who has been against the development since U2 applied for permission earlier this year -- said Clare Hogan's comments are damning.

"The planning authorities clearly ignored the good advice of the City Conservation Architect. She is blatantly saying that this should not have been given permission and recommended a refusal.

"Essentially, her comments say that permission in this case would be illegal. And it is."

However, senior executive planner Anthony Abbot-King felt the scheme was "an exemplary design solution" and that the owners have shown the existence of exceptional circumstances for economic reasons and through the proposal to reinstate facades, as well as the need to rejuvenate the west end of Temple Bar.

He also considered that the four Georgian buildings were in "poor to very poor condition".

It is expected that An Taisce, as well as the Irish Georgian Society, will soon make an appeal to An Bord Pleanala.

And Michael Smith has vowed that, should An Bord Pleanala give the go ahead, he will personally challenge the permission in the courts.

Co-owners Bono and the Edge plan to demolish the Georgian buildings and transform the 44-bedroom boutique hotel into a 141-bedroom, five-star hotel and spa complete with signature restaurant, bar and fresh food market.

The "skycatcher atrium" on top will be visible from all over the city.

The hotel was designed by the internationally-renowned architect Norman Foster. A recent online poll found that three-quarters of architects on website Archiseek believed the development should not be given permission.

Larissa Nolan
Irish Independent

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