AN BORD Pleanála has granted planning permission for a €150 million plan to redevelop the Clarence Hotel on Dublin's Wellington Quay as "a bespoke building of design excellence" by international architects Foster + Partners.
The board made its decision by a seven-one majority against a strong recommendation by senior planning inspector Kevin Moore that permission be refused for the scheme, which he characterised as "conceptually brilliant but contextually illiterate".
The board said it would "provide a building of unique quality and architectural distinction [ and] . . . would in time become a significant feature in vistas along the Liffey".
As proposed by the Clarence Partnership - involving U2's Bono and The Edge, developer Paddy McKillen and financier Derek Quinlan - only the quayfront facades of the hotel adjoining Dollard House and four early 19th century buildings, would be retained.
Though all are designated as protected structures in the Dublin City Development Plan, the entire group would be built up to the current height of the Clarence and oversailed by an elliptical, flying saucer-like roof.
An Bord Pleanála was satisfied that "the continued historic hotel use" was sufficient to constitute "exceptional circumstances" to permit the part-demolition of the protected structures.
"In deciding not to accept the inspector's recommendation to refuse permission, the board considered that the development proposed, which involves the part-demolition of protected structures, is permissible because the exceptional quality of the design," the board's report said.
The board said this design would not undermine the integrity of the Liffey Quays Conservation Area but that it "would contribute positively to the character of the area". It also considered that the "unique circumstances of this case" - particularly, the "exceptional design quality" of the scheme - "would not constitute an undesirable precedent for the partial demolition of any other protected structures."
The Department of the Environment argued that the "exceptional circumstances that might warrant the . . . demolition of protected structures have not been demonstrated".
Dublin City Council's conservation architect Clare Hogan said the demolition of all but the facades would render the protected structures "meaningless".
The owners welcomed the board's decision, saying: "We are delighted that An Bord Pleanála has given us the green light for Norman Foster's design . . . It's great news for the team that has worked so hard on this project and we believe it's great news for Dublin."
The Clarence Partnership had warned that failure to get approval for its ambitious scheme to redevelop and extend the five-star hotel, to provide 114 large bedrooms and 28 suites, could lead to the property being sold, possibly for a "down-market budget hotel".
The Irish Times