AN BORD Pleanála approved plans to redevelop the Clarence Hotel in Dublin despite a strong recommendation by one of its senior planning inspectors that permission be refused because of its "uncompromising, ominous and overstated" impact on the Liffey Quays.
In his report on appeals by An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society and others against Dublin City Council's decision to grant approval, inspector Kevin Moore said the proposed development would "greatly alter the setting of the river, its bridges and streetscape".
His 88-page report described the existing complex of protected buildings on the site as "structurally sound . . . reparable, functional, usable, salvageable structures of significant heritage value, and regionally important - important for the quays and for the city".
Mr Moore said the demolition of such structurally sound, adaptable buildings was unsustainable and "undermines the policy to protect the city's built environment, ie the basis of the city's attractiveness for tourists". Facade retention alone was not defensible.
In general, he wrote, the demolition of a protected structure "should only be considered as a last resort". In his view, "none of the circumstances put forward by the applicant are in themselves exceptional, nor do they, as a group, add up to be exceptional". Although the proposed "skycatcher" roof made a "significant architectural statement", he believed that unifying so many buildings under one roof would create a "lop-sided, imbalanced terrace" on Wellington Quay, with a dominance "unparalleled on the quays".
Referring to the daring architectural treatment by Foster + Partners, Mr Moore said: "The design of the proposed development is conceptually brilliant but contextually illiterate [ because] the proposal has a visually uncompromising impact on Wellington Quay."
Recommending a refusal, he said An Bord Pleanála should cite such reasons as the proposed demolition of the protected structures as constituting "a significant loss of historic streetscape [ which] would undermine the integrity of the Liffey Quays conservation area".
Other reasons suggested by Mr Moore were that it would "seriously injure the amenities of the area" as well as materially contravene the Dublin City Development Plan and set an "undesirable precedent" for the demolition of protected structures generally.
In deciding to go against the inspector's advice, the appeals board made only one minor change to the plans, ordering that a proposed penthouse facing East Essex Street should be reduced at each end by four metres to lessen its impact on adjoining properties.
The board's decision was subject to 19 conditions, including requirements covering a schedule of all fixtures and fitting to be removed and reinstated, a full record of the existing buildings and their architectural features and an archaeological assessment of the entire site.
According to figures obtained last May by Mary Upton TD (Labour), An Bord Pleanála rejected the recommendations of its planning inspectors in 603 of the 4,611 appeals decided last year, amounting to 13 per cent of the total; this was up from 9 per cent in 2006.
The Irish Times