HIGH-RISE plans for the Ballsbridge area of Dublin, currently under appeal to An Bord Pleanála, would have a "significant adverse impact" on its character, according to the Department of the Environment.
In letters to the appeals board, the department's heritage division expressed concern that the scheme, approved by Dublin City Council's planners for the seven-acre former Jurys/Berkeley Court hotel site, is "excessively high".
Minister for the Environment John Gormley - a local TD - is debarred from interfering in the planning process, but he is a statutory consultee under the 2000 Planning Act and would have had to approve submissions to the board. Although the department did not object to the original application, it now says the proposed development would be "contrary to Dublin City Council's policy to protect the architectural character of the area".
The department's intervention, which came in response to a request from the board, is likely to be seen as a potentially serious blow to the plans by developer Seán Dunne, of Mountbrook Homes, for the high-rise cluster.
Mountbrook has said that no development would take place on the hotel's site until a 37-storey tower and another high-rise office block - omitted in the council planners' decision to grant permission last March - were approved.
It said the tower was "an integral element of the proposal and office space is an important part of a mixed-use development". If the appeals board refuses permission, Mountbrook may seek to build more apartments and embassy space on the site.
The planners approved 294 apartments, a 232-bedroom hotel, a shopping centre, an embassy building, cultural centre and a creche.
Three apartment blocks along Lansdowne Road were trimmed from 11 to nine storeys.
An unprecedented 127 appeals were made to the board in this case, of which 87 are supporting the development - including one lodged on Mr Dunne's behalf, seeking the full reinstatement of his scheme as planned.
The heritage division was also asked to comment on plans by Glenkerrin Homes for another high-rise cluster on the adjoining former Veterinary College site, but so far it has not expressed a view.
Its three-page letter to the board recognises the need to redevelop the site, but endorses the city council planners' decision to refuse permission for the proposed 37-storey tower and "other tall elements" of the scheme.
Referring to their approval for blocks of up to 18 storeys, it says these would be "excessive in terms of height, scale and bulk, and would have an adverse effect on the character and setting of a large number of protected structures in the immediate vicinity".
The letter says the excessive scale of the development would "seriously unbalance" the established architectural character of the area and have a "highly negative visual impact" along Lansdowne, Pembroke, Northumberland and Shelbourne Roads.
"The new buildings would introduce incongruous elements into the streetscape and dominate views down each of these roads . . . towering over, by very many storeys. . . predominantly one to four-storey protected structures in the area."
The department also says it has "serious concerns" about the proposal to develop such high-rise buildings a relatively short distance from the "internationally significant Georgian quarter of the south city", around Merrion and Fitzwilliam squares.
It wants the board to "consider whether sufficient consideration has been given to the visual impact of the proposed developments on the surrounding area, an established 19th century suburb containing so many protected structures".
While accepting the need for higher density housing, it says the location of tall buildings in or near historic areas "cannot be considered on an ad hoc basis". Suitable locations must be selected "in the interest of the common good".
The Irish Times