Sunday 31 August 2008

Bewley's may reopen as developers offer deal

BEWLEY'S Cafe at Westmoreland Street in Dublin is on the brink of reopening its doors after four years, thanks to an 11th-hour compromise from developers.

Those behind the controversial development have contacted An Bord Pleanála in a bid to meet halfway on plans for its future after a protracted planning dispute.

Originally, they had intended to turn the ground floor of the historic building into retail space with a small café section at the Price's Lane end.

But the planning appeals body had other ideas, insisting that there be public access to the iconic café from Westmoreland Street, in keeping with the building's heritage.

Now a move to compromise could finally end the high profile planning stand-off. Opponents of the original plans have signalled that the compromise could be enough to end their protests.

The Sunday Tribune can also reveal that the developers have negotiated a deal with craft and design retailers the Irish Design Guild, also known as the Glengarriff Woollen Mills, to lease the retail area on its completion.

Last year Dublin City Council granted planning permission to the owning consortium, including Col Campbell, the former managing director of Bewley's Oriental Cafes, to change part of the ground floor into retail space.

Despite that success, however, An Bord Pleanála recently wrote to the developers insisting they maintain the historic Westmoreland Street entrance to the café.

The correspondence suggested that the proposed café in the Fleet Room be extended into the Middle Room and Garden Room and that it be mixed with the retail space, allowing public access to the café from Westmoreland Street.

The heavy retail use was the principal impasse holding up a green light on the development.

There was fierce opposition from the Save Bewley's Café Campaign (SBCC), which collected 20,000 signatures protesting a closure of the café, An Taisce and the National Conservation and Heritage Group (NCHG), and a previous planning permission for retail use in 2005 was overturned.

But revisiting their earlier plans last week, Manahan Planners, on behalf of the owners, suggested a compromise that could finally see the building come back to life.

They had originally worried that an extended café/restaurant licensed to serve alcohol would have to be separate from the unlicensed retail space by a barrier, in line with regulations.

"This would result in a retail shop which is too small to attract a quality tenant as required in the Dublin City Council development plan," they observed. "In response our clients now propose the following. Firstly they will license the entire premises. Even though the retail floor area will not avail of this, this will permit the external doors of the licensed premises to be on Fleet Street and Westmoreland Street. There will not, therefore, be a need for an internal division other than for security reasons outside of the retail opening hours."

They go on to suggest that the Middle and Garden rooms be granted dual use as both retail and café use.

"This would allow the retail operator to fit out the entire premises facing Westmoreland Street in their corporate designs," says the letter. "The café tables could therefore be in the centre of the room with retail displays on the wall. The retail operator has indicated that they could operate with such an arrangement albeit at a reduced rent as they would have less sales space."

Damien Cassidy of the National Conservation and Heritage Group (NCHG) has welcomed the move.

"As far as the NCHG is concerned this is a pragmatic approach that I think is capable of a satisfactory conclusion that will see the much-loved Bewley's café reopen and bring back the heart of Westmoreland Street," he said. "I will do my best to ensure that a pragmatic compromise is reached with the developers. I think they will run with this."

Sunday Tribune

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