Sunday 14 September 2008

Ex-planner says project in Ballsbridge 'a shambles'

A FORMER chief Dublin city planner has accused the council’s planning department of disregarding the city development plan in granting permission for Seán Dunne’s high-rise development in Ballsbridge.

Former city planning officer Pat McDonnell, who took early retirement from the council four years ago, told An Bord Pleanála he was concerned about the “state of planning” in the council since he left the department. “I am particularly concerned about the status of the development plan in the eyes of the planners.”

He said the proposed development on the site of the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels in Ballsbridge contravened the development plan – which set Z1 residential zoning for the land – by allowing offices, having an excess of retail space, a deficit of open public space, sunless streets and no play area for children.

“The development plan is a democratically-arrived at contract with the public. It is a substantial, meaningful document, and is the whole basis for property rights...It can’t be casually interpreted or played around with.”

While there was room for some flexibility in interpretation of the plan, this particular development was in complete contravention of the plan. “Personally I would have put the developers – the applicants for this development – on early alert of the possibly rocky road they were going to face.”

Mr McDonnell said he was “surprised” and “rather disappointed” by the way the planners had treated this application. They had been right to reject the 37-storey tower which would have been an “impossibility” on the site. However, by granting other elements of the scheme on a piecemeal basis they had left the project in “a shambles”.

“There might have been a case for the planners to say ‘this isn’t going to work’ and to refuse this development in its entirety. Overall refusal might have been the best response.”

He said the site was suitable for redevelopment, but as a high-quality residential scheme with building heights of four to five storeys.

Patrick Dowling, a local resident and a banker, told the hearing on the proposed development it was his professional opinion that in the current economic climate no bank or syndicate of banks would be capable of financing the whole project.

The scheme could only be financed and built on a piecemeal basis. “This gives rise to my gravest concern that for years the site will only be partially developed and half-built, and so will become the largest construction eyesore in the country.”

He said permission should not be granted as the scheme contravened the city development plan. However if it was the board should impose a timetable and the developer should be required to lodge a significant bond with the council which would be forfeit if the timetable was not adhered to.

The Irish Times

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