Wednesday 17 September 2008

Council criticised for not putting planner in witness box over high-rise

OPPONENTS OF Seán Dunne’s proposed high-rise development in Ballsbridge have criticised Dublin City Council for failing to put its senior planner who approved it in the witness box at the An Bord Pleanála hearing on the scheme.

The council yesterday made its submission to the hearing, calling the acting deputy planner for the south city area, Mary Conway, as its main witness, but not senior planner Kieran Rose, who was present.

Barrister Colm Mac Eochaidh, representing 22 appellants, said his clients were “extremely surprised and dismayed” that Mr Rose was not in the witness box.

John Gallagher SC, for the council, said he chose not to call Mr Rose because there was no need, but said he would be available for cross-examination.

Ms Conway defended the council’s decision to approve most of the scheme but said it could not allow the 37-storey element.

There was no council policy or strategy that allowed it to grant permission for the super high-rise element on the site, she said. At 136m, the tower proposed for the site of the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels was taller than buildings planned or approved for designated high-rise areas.

Mr Dunne’s tower would be taller than the U2 Tower at 120m, the Point Village at 120m, or Heuston Village at 105m, which were all in areas recommended by strategies as suitable for high-rise.

“The planning authority would require clear guidance for assessing and granting permission for a structure of this scale and height . . . in the absence of a strategy, the planning authority considered it reasonable to refuse permission for this element,” she said.

Ms Conway said the council did not believe its “split decision” would compromise the viability of the development. It was “of exceptional architectural and urban design quality”.

It was a unified scheme that “will greatly improve the character of the site and area as a whole”. The apartments were “high quality” and there was substantial open space on the site. The development did not have a physical impact on protected structures or conservation area, she said. Other objectors yesterday said the decision not to grant permission for the tower left a “large hole” in the centre of the development,

The council had to refuse permission for the tower because it contravened the city development plan and this element should not be reinstated by An Bord Pleanála, town planner Ann Mulcrone told the hearing.

Ms Mulcrone, who represents a number of residents opposing the development, said the removal of the tower left “a large hole in the footprint” and “created a gap in the streetscape” that made the scheme unviable.

If An Bord Pleanála did grant the development, it would be an “apocalyptic prospect” and would set an extraordinary precedent for development in the area.

Such high-density development would not just damage Ballsbridge but would have “adverse urban economic effects” on areas that needed renewal, such as the docklands, by shifting investment to Ballsbridge.

The Irish Times

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