THE architect at the centre of the 1990s regeneration of Temple Bar yesterday said if ambitious plans like those for U2's Clarence Hotel were on the table back then he would have backed them.
James Howley, who oversaw much of the regeneration of the cultural centre of Dublin, told a hearing of An Bord Pleanala into plans to transform the Clarence site: "It is important to understand the meaning and essence of the term conservation, which is often mistakenly confused with those of preservation."
Mr Howley came out strongly in favour of the project and said: "None of the six buildings on the site is of high architectural merit, neither in external appearance nor interior design."
The conservation of the hotel was the main focus of discussions at the third day of the hearing, when final oral submissions were heard. Meanwhile opponents argued that the plans amount to the demolition of the listed hotel.
Proponents of the plan said four of the six buildings were not listed in the original Temple Bar regeneration plans of 1985 and were only added as protected structures in the plan of 1999-2000.
The proposed development by the Clarence Partnership, whose members include U2's Bono and The Edge and renowned hoteliers David Quinlan and Paddy McKinley, would see the hotel expand from 44 rooms to a 141-room, eight-storey hotel at a cost of €150m.
The ambitious plan includes a rooftop garden and innovative sky-catcher light well, housed in an ellipse, which will see the height of the hotel rise over two metres above its current height.
Mr Andrew Bowe, representing the designer, world renowned architect Norman Foster, said the increase in height would soften the views of the Liffey skyline, where at present only certain buildings are visible, such as the Central Bank and the Four Courts.
Mr Bowe's presentation stated that cities constantly change and there is heritage value in the Clarence Hotel proposal. He said it would be the most sustainable hotel in Europe due to its design, which means it will be naturally ventilated, lit and heated.
He added that because of its owners and its location, it would create its own heritage in the future. Opponents of the plans were adamant that the structure of the building should remain, and argued what they see as the demolition of the buildings should only happen in exceptional circumstances.