THE RISK taken by developers in acquiring sites from the State in return for providing affordable homes has been underlined by a Bord Pleanála decision to refuse permission for a major scheme in Harcourt Terrace in Dublin.
The proposed development by the Durkan Group would have replaced Harcourt Terrace Garda station and the old Film Censor's office with two apartment buildings and two office blocks, ranging in height from four to nine storeys.
In return for acquiring development rights, Durkan agreed to provide 408 affordable homes at six locations in west Dublin - a deal hailed as showing the potential for such land swaps by Des Geraghty, chairman of the Affordable Homes Partnership.
These deals are quite different to the public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements made by Dublin City Council with developer Bernard McNamara that collapsed last week.
John O'Connor, chief executive of the Affordable Homes Partnership, confirmed yesterday that the deal involving the Harcourt Terrace site was not subject to planning permission. "It was Durkans' risk, so it's unfortunate from their point of view."
He said all 408 affordable homes built by the group had been handed over and occupied. "I'm sure they will lodge a revised application for the site and that they'll get permission for some level of development - maybe not what they wanted."
An Bord Pleanála upheld appeals by local residents and An Taisce, saying the scheme "would fail to respect its context" and would "adversely impact on the setting" of a unique Regency terrace on the opposite side of Harcourt Terrace.
It also said the proposed development "would not be of the standard required to justify the removal of the existing Garda station" - an unlisted two-storey building that the board's planning inspector, Jane Dennehy, said was worthy of retention.
"I consider the two buildings, which date from the 1940s, to be fully viable and structurally sound. The Garda station is of special value and . . . the interior relatively unaltered, with terrazzo flooring, joinery and fittings fully intact and in good condition."
The Department of the Environment, in its observations on the appeal, also suggested that any future proposals for developing the 0.87-acre site should take account of the need for recognition of the "architectural significance" of the Garda station.
An Bord Pleanála noted that the site lies within a designated residential conservation area in the current Dublin city development plan, saying any scheme would require "a very high quality of design in context with its architectural surroundings".
The proposed nine-storey office block on the Grand Canal frontage of the site would "seriously injure the amenities of the area and of property in the vicinity".
Even though the city council's planners - in their decision last August to approve the Durkan scheme - had reduced the block by two storeys, the board's inspector said this would "not overcome the inappropriateness of the proposed development".
The council received more than 20 objections, including one from An Taisce, which said the scheme would need to be revised to take account of "the unique and sensitive environment of Harcourt Terrace and the scale and pattern of development on the Grand Canal".
Durkan had maintained that its "high-quality scheme" would address the shortfall of accommodation, both residential and offices, in the Dublin area by developing an "under-utilised brownfield site . . . in accordance with proper planning and sustainable development".