Monday 21 July 2008

Scaled-down visions for tall buildings

CORK HAS again stolen a march on Dublin, with the Elysian tower overtaking Cork County Hall to claim the title of the Republic's tallest building, 11m (36ft) higher than Liberty Hall in Dublin, which is still the capital's tallest despite numerous proposals to go higher.

While Dublin is still in the process of discussions and deliberations about the planning of tall buildings, Cork has gone beyond that and is delivering them, Norman Craig, managing director of construction consultants Davis Langdon PKS, said last week.

In June, the Office of Public Works confirmed the 117m apartment tower planned for a site near Heuston train station had been put on the long finger because of current market conditions - three years after An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project.

Upholding a decision by Dublin City Council, the appeals board gave its approval largely because of the design quality of the scheme by Paul Keogh Architects. Design was also the key issue in the board's decision last week to approve Foster + Partners' plans for the Clarence Hotel.

But An Bord Pleanála has been far from indulgent in permitting high-rise schemes in Dublin. The record shows it is not prepared to approve random tall buildings, particularly in cases where there is no local area plan with explicit provisions for extra height.

Within the past few months, the board has overturned Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's decisions to approve two tower blocks on Sandyford Industrial Estate, mainly because of the absence of an adequate planning framework.

Earlier this month, the council itself refused permission for another complex in Sandyford, with three towers ranging in height from 12 to 24 storeys.

It has been a similar tale in the city. Where Dublin City Council's planners were prepared to permit tower blocks of up to 13 storeys in schemes planned for Bridgefoot Street and Francis Street in the Liberties, An Bord Pleanála cut them down substantially in scale.

On Thomas Street, the board flatly refused permission for high-rise clusters on sites acquired from the State for Digital Hub developments; its decisions referred to the council's declared policy of protecting the skyline of the inner city.

In May, the board overturned the council's decision to approve a mixed-use scheme of offices and apartments ranging from four to nine storeys on Harcourt Terrace, on the basis it would "fail to respect its context" - notably the Regency terrace directly opposite.

The board made it clear to Arnotts it wants its proposed 16-storey tower omitted from plans for the "Northern Quarter" development because it would be "unduly obtrusive on the skyline" and "seriously detract" from the streetscape.

In the case of shopping centre plans for the Carlton site on Upper O'Connell Street, developers Chartered Land were initially encouraged by the council's planners to incorporate a high-rise element - the "Park in the Sky"; now the planners seem to be having second thoughts.

Curiously, their request for further information from the developers of a proposed 11-storey block on the former Motor Tax Office behind the Four Courts dealt with issues unrelated to its height - this scheme is likely to go to An Bord Pleanála on appeal.

Further details have also been sought on plans by Treasury Holdings for a 35-storey hotel to the rear of the National Conference Centre now under construction at Spencer Dock, following objections from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and others.

Already under appeal by An Taisce and seven other parties is the council's decision to approve developer Bernard McNamara's plan to redevelop the Burlington Hotel site with buildings ranging up to eight storeys fronting onto Sussex Road and Burlington Road.

The council is due to make a decision by the end of this month on revised plans for 11- and 12-storey towers on a site at School Street in the Liberties.

One senior city planner said the council "always advises developers to take likely problems into account" in dealing with high-rise proposals - including the possibility of a rejection by An Bord Pleanála. "All we're trying to do is to encourage sustainable densities," he added.

The board took a different view in its recent decision to approve a largely residential mixed-use development on the former Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites at South Circular Road. The effect of its ruling would be to reduce the density of this scheme to just 50 units per acre.

The future of higher density development - and high-rise in particular - will become clearer in September when the city management reports back to Dublin City Council on the public reaction to its draft strategy, Maximising the City's Potential: A Strategy for Intensification and Height. Public reaction at a series of consultation meetings last month was so negative that key aspects of the document are expected to be changed.

And with the heritage division of the Department of the Environment intervening more frequently in the planning arena, the planners must feel they are under fire from all sides.

The Irish Times

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