Thursday 9 July 2009

RTÉ request to have 31-acre site rezoned seen as valuation exercise

RTÉ’S REQUEST to Dublin City Council to have its 31-acre site in Donnybrook rezoned for mixed-use development, including offices, retail and residential, is being seen as a long-term land valuation exercise.

The fact that its two-page submission on the draft city development plan was signed by chief financial controller Conor Hayes suggests the move is not unrelated to the State broadcaster’s financial crisis, which could see it losing €68 million this year.

The letter from Mr Hayes to the city council’s planning department notes that RTÉ began operating from Montrose – the name of the original Victorian house on the Donnybrook site – in 1960 and, since then, it has “become synonymous with Irish broadcasting”.

It points out that roughly half of the site is occupied by a combination of studio production facilities and ancillary office accommodation. These include the main television and radio buildings, all of which were designed by leading architects Scott Tallon Walker (STW).

The remainder of the site, as the letter notes, is “open space/ parkland”, although it does not mention that much of this is used for car parking. The landscaped parkland setting of the RTÉ buildings was also a critical element of STW’s masterplan.

Mr Hayes notes that Donnybrook itself has “undergone very substantial change during the past 50 years and can no longer realistically be characterised as “leafy suburbia”, as it might have been in 1960 but rather part of an extended city centre.

“The recently developed Donnybrook rugby stadium, the expansion of St Vincent’s University Hospital, the ongoing revitalisation of Donnybrook village, the modernisation of the nearby RDS and the expansion of UCD . . . have all combined to contribute to its recharacterisation.”

The letter refers to the city council planning department’s paper in relation to the draft development plan, saying it “very sensibly acknowledges that a ‘sustainable Dublin’ is one that involves developing a more compact city with an intensification of mixed-use development . . .

“In tandem with this view, we have formed the opinion that in the long term, the appropriate development of the Montrose site has the potential to be harnessed to contribute to the creation of a more compact urban environment,” as Mr Hayes explains RTÉ’s latest position.

“Our understanding of current best practice relating to sustainable development, including the need for the wide use of resources and the efficient management of the urban ecosystem, suggests that ‘brownfield’ sites like Montrose can offer a significant opportunity to enhance sustainable urban living.”

The term “brownfield” is usually applied, however, to redundant industrial land, such as the former Dublin Gas sites in Docklands. It is not used to describe sites that are in use or extensively landscaped as parkland. In the case of Montrose, this includes many mature specimen trees.

Mr Hayes’s letter says the current zoning of the RTÉ campus for “institutional and community use” (Z15) would not allow for its potential to be realised. It is seeking to have the site rezoned to “consolidate and facilitate the development of inner suburban sites for mixed-use development” (Z10).

Irish Times

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