Ski Resort for Dublin City Centre

Posted in News on July 24, 2008 by Editor

Skiing around Dublin

The Suas has not gone away then. According to today’s Irish Times [article appended below], a developer is about to apply for permission for oversailing cable-cars up and down the Liffey in Dublin city centre. Not just ordinary oversailing cable-cars but iconic ones [photo, top left]. The arrangement looks like a series of elbows linked by string. A washing-line on metal boomerangs.

The scheme is not intended to be useful.  Trips will cost a prohibitive €25 return and it is “designed as a tourist attraction rather than a transport service”. Dublin has enough material stuff so we should do it completely for the tourists. Let’s face it, transport hasn’t really worked for Dubliners, so let’s give up on it and try something new that focuses on tourists, who are much better with these things anyway. Let’s do a Book of Kells on wires.

But no, why not be braver? Do justice to the new Ireland with its can-do, the sky’s-the-limit energy. Let’s make Dublin into a signature, iconic, world-class mega ski resort. Long-term, locals on the slopes – like trucks on the quays – would be banned. Our gift to tourists, in return for taking our huddled masses, for coming here during the Quiet Man years and giving us all those structural funds.
So there’s seldom any snow: well why not add über-snow-machines to the city’s tallest buildings that are to be constructed in Docklands and Heuston.

If backward Dubai can manufacture lush greenery and water from the desert, why can’t fashionable Dublin become the world’s biggest ski destination? Snow would cascade down the quays (to be renamed the “squays”) and off via Heuston and Lucan to the borders of Kildare. We already have the infrastructure. Joe O’Reilly has proposed the timely ski-slope over O’ Connell St.The Smithfield ice-rink could be extended to Castleknock and the fake ski slopes at Kilternan lengthened down to Deansgrange. New outlying resorts would grow up. Martin Cullen would organise just the right amount of private sector involvement. Killester would be Klosters. Welcome to “Bally-Zermatt”. The begrudgers are gone and a new generation will simply not be told “thus far and no further”. If Barry Boland wants pint-of-guinness shape cable cars he must have them. Winter sports festivals would take the place of the boring old summery ones. The Liffey Swim would no longer be possible, but we could have the Liffey Luge.

Temple Bar wouldn’t just be the cultural quarter: it would be the aprés-ski quarter. The pools of drinkers’ vomit would colourfully fleck the spreading snow as it swooshed down from Docklands. We will need mountains, but that will be no problem if we just re-use the spoil from Tara. With Heuston serving as a sort of Mont Blanc to Spencer Dock’s Matterhorn, the Civic Offices would be reconfigured as Swiss chalets, with nursery slopes along the “squays”, space-skiing from the skycatcher atop the Clarence, red slopes down Dame St and black slopes around Dublinia in Christchurch. Off piste will be provided in the Liberties and Coombe and toboganning down the Liffey boardwalk, the “Dirt”. Prince Charles and his family have reportedly already spoken about spending six months in Dublin annually.

Fired up by the public reaction to the cable car, a fine example of what Frank McDonald in the Irish Times described as the City Council’s “lateral thinking”, Dublin City’s architecture Department is already testing the best direction for new thinking generally. A team is reportedly pursuing a circular-thinking revolving artichoke (modelled on London’s sensational gherkin), the vertical-thinking Spite (taller than, and next to, the Spike but with lighting that works) and the subterranean-thinking world’s deepest building, which is to be tunnelled under Temple Bar.

Anything for an end to the mediocrity, it seems.

That Article:

Thursday, July 24, 2008
Cable car project to seek city council sanction

OLIVIA KELLY

THE DEVELOPER behind the €90 million “Suas” cable car project for the River Liffey is to seek planning permission from Dublin City Council for the scheme, after failing to secure fast-track planning approval from An Bord Pleanála.

Details of the Suas, which would run from Heuston Station to the docklands and involve the construction of 80m (262ft) towers along its length, were yesterday presented to city councillors ahead of the submission of a planning application.

Developer Barry Boland, formerly a planner with Dublin County Council, last year sought to have the Suas considered under fast-track planning rules which allow strategic infrastructural developments to be determined directly by An Bord Pleanála.

However, the board decided the Suas did not qualify as strategic infrastructure, leaving Mr Boland no option but to apply to the city council.

The Suas would be a tourist attraction rather than a public transport system, Mr Boland said.

“We’re trying to create the equivalent of an Eiffel Tower, the London Eye or the Sydney Opera House – the sort of iconic thing that Dublin currently lacks.”

Each cable car could carry 30 people and would run every 20 minutes. A round trip would cost €25. Two 80m towers – 20m taller than Liberty Hall – would be built at Marlborough Street and Wood Quay, and 60m towers would be located in the docklands and at Watling Street to support the cable. Mr Boland estimates that one in every eight visitors to Dublin would use the Suas.

Several councillors said they were interested in the project, but stopped short of endorsing it.

“My mind was quite closed to this project, and I would still have a certain scepticism, but my mind is perhaps a little less closed,” Labour councillor Emer Costello said.

Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan said it was good to see a project that was “trying to do something with the Liffey”.

Mr Boland said it was up to the planners to decide if it detracted from the skyline. He had wanted the cable cars to be in the shape of a pint of Guinness, but this violated advertising codes.

Mr Boland said he would be ready to submit his planning application within weeks. However, because the city council owns some of the land on which the entrance to the Suas and the towers supporting the cable would be built, he needs to be given permission by the city manager to lodge an application.

A Dublin City Council spokeswoman said Mr Boland would need to seek a pre-planning meeting with the council to detail how he intended to deal with certain issues including access.

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority said it supported the project in principle, pending a decision from the council.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Kieran Rose Article

Posted in 1 on June 17, 2008 by Editor

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How Kieran Rose wanted to liberate Bridgefoot St (image analogy courtesy Kevin Duff)

People dealing with planning in Dublin have wondered for a while what was going on in Kieran Rose’s head.We found out in today’s Irish Times (Opinion IT 17 June below). As a senior planner in Dublin City Council his speciality has been promoting permissions that breach the city’s development plan – e.g. the Clarence and some of the unplanned high-rise around Ballsbridge and the Liberties (including the inverted L depicted above, though with some geographical licence). Because of the breaches many of his controversial decisions get overturned by An Bord Pleanala. I found his article confusing but essentially he believes that we need to get rid of “limiting mindsets”; promote the economy and creativity; and that “a great city has two hallmarks: tolerance for strangers and intolerance for mediocrity”. He has no time for the accepted concept of sustainability (including boring environmental concerns like reducing traffic and carbon emissions), for democracy as represented by the views of the elected representatives and citizens who together draw up the development plan that is intended to guide planning permissions, or for the heritage that distinguishes the attractions of Dublin from those of New York. Indeed most of the works he quotes are relevant to the US and not to Ireland. Barmy abstract quotations along the lines of those included in his article have for some time now peppered planning decisions emanating from Dublin CIty Council. His vision may offer a certain superficial energy but is so transparently limited in planning terms as to be risible and dangerous. The point about planning is that it must aim to address all factors and interests, not just the exciting or voguish ones.

THAT ARTICLE:

Dublin could be a ‘creative city’ if we get rid of limiting mindsets

Increasingly, cities are drivers of national economies and are successful largely because creative people want to live there. Research shows such people are drawn to places that are diverse and tolerant.
Increasingly, cities are drivers of national economies and are successful largely because creative people want to live there. Research shows such people are drawn to places that are diverse and tolerant.

Successful, dynamic, exciting cities are ones that embrace diversity and openness and plan to meet people’s real needs, rather than adhering to ideological positions, writes Kieran Rose .

IN THE Rise of the Creative Class , Richard Florida writes: “We live in a time of great promise. We have evolved economic and social systems that tap human creativity and turn it into economic value as never before. This in turn creates an unparalleled opportunity to raise our living standards, build a more humane and sustainable economy, and make our lives more complete.”

Florida documents the centrality of creative industries and creative workers in the new economy and in global competitiveness; and how openness to diversity, especially in relation to gay people and people from diverse backgrounds and other countries, is critical to success.

Creative workers are those who add economic value through their creativity. They include scientists, engineers, designers, artists and those employed in knowledge-based industries. Increasingly, cities are drivers of national economies and are successful largely because creative people from around the world want to live there.

From his research, Florida found that people were drawn to places that were diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas. He writes of “creative ecosystems – habitats open to new people and ideas”.

Places with a high concentration of gay people tend to have higher rates of innovation and economic growth. Florida is not arguing that gay people cause cities to be successful, but that our presence in large numbers is “an indicator of an underlying culture that’s openminded and diverse”, and thus conducive to creativity and attractive to creative workers. A place that welcomes gay people welcomes all kinds of people.

He quotes Bonnie Kahn, who writes: “A great city has two hallmarks: tolerance for strangers and intolerance for mediocrity.”

The Florida approach links a wide range of issues such as globalisation, economic growth and prosperity, diversity and creativity, equality and social justice, planning and city-making. Economic success is key; it is fundamental to social success and should be welcomed for the life opportunities it offers. It is not to be decried, as it is by some; prosperity, it would seem, is good for them but dangerous for others.

Issues of social justice and equality are crucial. In a paper on educational disadvantage, Creating a Place for All in the Knowledge Economy and the Learning Society , John Sweeney, senior social policy analyst with the National Economic and Social Council, rebuts a negative mindset, among even the well-intentioned, that discounts Ireland’s economic success. He argues that “our economic performance is much more part of the solution than part of the problem when it comes to ensuring a better quality of life for all”.

Florida makes a related point when he says there is a huge reservoir of untapped creative potential that is being squandered because of social exclusion and argues that we must strive to tap the full creative capabilities of every single human being. Addressing these issues “is not only socially and morally just; it is an economic imperative for any society interested in long-term innovation and prosperity”.

There are common themes across these issues: there are two mindsets, liberating or limiting.

The liberating mindset is characterised by embracing diversity; having high ambitions for a better quality of life for all; a confidence in our ability to deliver positive change; openness; flexibility; responsiveness to changed circumstances; and prioritising real people’s lives over abstract ideological positions. This approach can deliver progress and optimise opportunities in all areas, whether social, economic or city-making.

The limiting or fearful mindset is characterised by being change-averse; having low ambitions; a lack of confidence; a resistance to diversity; and sacrificing ordinary people’s life opportunities to a glorification of either a past that never was or a rigid ideological position.

Max Page’s study of the redevelopment of New York touches on all of these issues, including diversity and immigration. He argues that in the battles over new buildings, demolition and planning lay “the fundamental tension between a celebration of the metropolis – its dynamism and diversity – and a profound nostalgia born of a fear for what the modern city portended”.

Similar resistances are at work in Dublin today. Florida puts it well when he says new creative cities can emerge and surpass established players very quickly. He analyses how some cities lose out: “these cities are trapped by their past”, in the culture and attitudes of a bygone age, and so innovation and growth shift to new places.

Florida brings together issues of economic growth, creativity, equality, diversity, social justice, planning and city-making in a challenging and productive way.

This approach provides a wide agenda for change that could involve a broad range of agencies in an alliance for progress. This could include central and local Government; planning authorities; trade-union and business interests; equality, social justice and community organisations; economic development agencies; private enterprises; and the development sector.

Peter Hall’s Cities in Civilization analyses the evolution of creative cities such as Los Angeles, London, New York and others. He wonders where the next global creative city will be and concludes that it will be “a special kind of city, a city in economic and social flux with large numbers of new and young arrivals, mixing and merging into a new kind of society”.

This sounds like Dublin. It could be Dublin, but only if we get rid of our limiting mindsets and are ambitious, open and determined to succeed.

Kieran Rose is chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, a board member of the Equality Authority, a member of the consultative panel of FuturesIreland, and a planner with Dublin City Council. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of any of these organisations.

Lisboff

Posted in Opinion on June 13, 2008 by Editor

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red herring          Christmas turkey               dead duck?

Federalism
I have to declare that the views canvassed here are rooted in my unadulterated federalism. I am happy to be European and envision an Irish democracy that would be centralised from Europe but localised at regional/provincial and parish levels. Though I am very wary of globalism and cultural homogenisation, I like the idea of Europe as a force to rival the United States. In general too I have supported legislation that has originated in Brussels.

Lisbon Treaty
I do not think that any of the other EU-driven constitutional amendments have been negative and I believe that Lisbon essentially proposed more of the same – in changed circumstances.

Shocked
So I was appalled that our bigwig politicians sold the Treaty so ineptly to the populace. All the vim was on the No side; the Yessies were passionless. Only oily Dick Roche seemed to be au fait with the detail. Nor, despite Enda Kenny’s magnificent willingness to get three syllables out of the word Treaty, do I believe that the principal opposition parties made much effort – since a No vote was always going to embarrass the government more than them.

A Compromise
Why didn’t they just tell us that it was a compromise agreement between 27 nations altering the complex EU regime to reflect enlargement and the needs for more efficiency and to bolster the EU’s status internationally. That like most of the EU’s evolution it was neither a jolt to the right nor a jolt to the left, that the voting balance between small and big countries remains roughly as it was.

Indeed why didn’t they say anything that I can remember?

Instead they left it to a bunch of loony and dodgy rightists and the ultra-left at its worst, to set the mendacious agenda and paint the images in the public mind.

An exercise in democracy?
There are half a billion people in twenty-seven countries in the European Union. One country only – with a population of four million – got to vote on the Treaty. Of that four million only three million were eligible to vote and less than half that number actually did so. Of that number just over half voted No. Less than a million voted NO. But of that number how many actually said No to the Lisbon Treaty as opposed to No to unexplained legalese and buffoonish politicians? I would say, very conservatively, less than half. In other words less than half a million people out of 500 million really were against the substance of Lisbon. One thousandth of the EU citizenry put the spanner in the works.

If Europe dwindles as a force after Lisbon’s Irish defeat it will be a shocking exercise in anti-democracy.

Ireland’s new place in Europe
I think it will result in Ireland being perceived as arrogant. Throwing a turkey into Europe was the start of it. Voting No to an enhanced Europe is much more serious, especially after our schizophrenia over Nice. I predict following twenty years of being inexplicably fashionable, Ireland will now inexorably become as disliked as the British in Europe. Ironically our international superiority complex registered twenty years to the day after the death, with Ray Houghton’s goal in the England net, of our international inferiority complex.

So how did the mainstream politicians get it so badly wrong?
I think it was because they were terrified of saying the Lisbon Treaty was complex since they like earthy simplicities; because they hated to say it was a compromise because they have led us to believe we should only do what is in our unmitigated financial advantage; and because, being systemically visionless, they were unable to outline a vision of what Europe stands for and what Ireland gains and contributes to this vision.

And where do we go now?

Noises from Brussels suggest we’ll be invited to have another go – like we did with Nice. They’ll respect the vote but in a new sense of the word which requires the vote’s erasure. The problem is that there were no principal reasons why people voted No. Some form of parallel protocol will not work this time. You would have expected the massed political elite would have outmanoeuvred a disparate residue of outsiders and the misinformed, this time. But the motleyness itself made that residue impossible to counter. The No side only had to get lucky with one argument per voter. There is no reason, I believe, to think next time will be any different after we have been Euro-pressganged into an exercise in mature reflection.

Faltering high-rise agenda

Posted in News on June 3, 2008 by Editor

O’Connell St ski slope Digital Hub Proposal   George’s Quay

Roadshows

So after it got nowhere with its Croke Park Conference (where its by-now infamous Maximising the City’s Potential document, the dullest, most important document since Lisbon – didn’t even get discussed), Dublin City Council decided to see if it could get its high-rise and high-density strategy agreed by local communities around Dublin. Daithi Doolan was delivering on his promise.

Stop 1 was Pearse St and the “South East Area” a few weeks ago. 60 odd people and most of the local councilors made it and unfortunately for management they got no support whatsoever for their benighted document. Daithi Doolan, whose website notes that opposition to high-rise is one of his selling points started off, as usual, astride the fence on the issue, concerned not to conform to stereotype in the presence of city management whose goodwill is important to his chairing of the Planning SPC.

Rob Fennelly, Planning Information Officer for Dublin City Council, misinformed the meeting that the document just put limits on existing height standards: it was all about shape and certainty. Josephine Henry rose to give the opposite viewpoint on behalf of the Community sector but didn’t seem to have read it and generally agreed with Mr Fennelly. She explained the planning process but the meeting wasn’t supposed to be about that.

Then DCC had proposed forming nice groups so DCC officials could dominate the proceedings but lo the residents opposed this and, although Mary Freehill and Daithi Doolan initially were reluctant, ultimately Aibhlin McCrann who was facilitating the meeting ran with the heated views of residents. It was all coming unstuck.

It remained for residents to show that the document actually does effect MAJOR changes to the current policy, that in reality it did not propose a cap at 8 storeys in the city centre and that areas, including Ballsbridge and Ringsend in the “Outer City” were fair game for high-rise. Poor Rob Fennelly and his cohorts of colleagues sat tight and the truth had prevailed.

A unanimous vote opposed Maximising and it was noted that adopting a Local Area Plan would conduce to good planning and proper consultation. The meeting closed. It had been worse than Croke Park for Maximising!

Stop 2 was June 9 and Ballymun. A meeting of around 40 from all over the Northern Fringes of the city again voted clearly against Maximising. Only two voted in favour. And one was Councillor Bill Tormey of FG who is in favour of high-rise provided it is accompanied by good facilities. Cllr Bill Tormey is famous for taking a consistent stance agains “whingers” who get in the way of progress.

Croke Park hosted 60-70 north cityers on 19 June. The meeting started off with warm words from Christie Burke and Daithi Doolan of Sinn Fein who were concerned to keep order and obtain consensus respectively. Then there was a generally accurate presentation by John O’Hara for the City Council and fairly woolly talk by Josephine Henry of CTA on behalf of “the Community” – both of which inaccurately portrayed the document as in some way “strategic” when it is in fact permissive. Cllr Emer Costello made the useful point that the document is not rooted in any sort of research and Cllr Tom Stafford thinks there are enough people in Dublin – and appeared a little surprised when not cheered to the rafters for this wisdom – but unusually for a FFer is unambiguously against high-rise and thinks the Docklands Authority the most undemocratic he’s come across. Beleaguered city officials had their eyeballs rooted to the roofs of their heads. A vote was called and only one earnest young man voted in favour of the document. Tom Stafford’s press release was already moist.

And finally on June 23 80-90 residents attended a fairly angry meeting, annoyed that their pro-active views were not being addressed, and at the 16-storey element at the proposed Northside Shopping Centre development.

The City Council’s in trouble now because the residents mood was against high density as well as against high-rise.

The question is, as with Lisbon, can they make us vote again.

In March Dublin City Council hosted its first conference on the Maximising  document. I went along, though I had no ticket, and was able to slip in to share the excitement of 400 of the city’s planning movers over this opaque document that is intended to alter the character of our city for good or bad, without ever being understood by the citizenry.

The line up of speakers was packed with the usual pro-development and economics-oriented forces with no community, heritage or environmental representation and notional speakers from the social sector who knew nothing of the detail of the Maximising document. Daithi Doolan of Sinn Fein chaired the discusion and though embedded on the fence he may be a sleeping anti-high-rise agent. Certainly he committed to putting the matter before the “Community” before the process was over. Conor Skehan of the DIT gave an address about regional development which he felt represented “speaking the truth to power”. I felt it was less noble: more “leaving planning to the market” (which is the strongest power anyway). He believes growth will take place in the East of Ireland; and the West will stagnate. He had one slide showing how high-rise is less important than high density. It was not enough. He had left Maximising out of his speech. Marc Coleman was next: he is the economics correspondent of Newstalk. He joshed unfunnily about his birthday shared with Stalin and clearly thinks that he’s a bit of a card for being right wing. He also has an offputtingly hiccoughy delivery. Coleman recently produced a badly-written book called something smug like Getting Better and Better in which he shared unending anecdotal views on Ireland in general and planning in particular with the reader. He fails to realise that a lack of favourable reviews was society’s way of telling him his book was unimportant. Instead he seems to think that he can repeat its discarded wisdoms forevermore to serious people. He spoke a lot about the famine and probably does not know the difference between high-rise and high-density, though he’s correctly in favour of the latter. Sean O Laoire, a nice man, who seems like one of his grandparents must have been a Koala, showed us some slides about good urban spaces, on behalf of the RIAI of which he is president. Mick Wallace told us that the developers don’t give back enough to the fucking common good. None of it was about the permissive document that is Maximising. Regional Strategy, social housing, prioritising the public domain, the famine: Yes. Lots of slides of half-interesting Dubliners praising the Corpo with background music: Certainly. But no Maximising. It was the elephant not in the room.

When the last speaker finished we were told that we had ten minutes for questions. I had sat at the front, and asked the first question which was a statement that it was a pity that the environmental and community sectors had been excluded from the platform and that the speakers had not dealt with Maximising – indeed seemed complacently not to have read it. I said it was not clear from the speakers where high-rise would actually take place. I suggested that nearly every area was being targeted and that if you could have a building the height of Liberty Hall on the Carlton site nowhere was safe. Peter Cassells was chairing the morning. He said my question was a statement, which it was, and that he wouldn’t allow my “stunt”. I wonder how much, if anything, he was paid for chairing the event and if he thinks much about planning or just about unions. After that there were a few anodyne questions which the panel didn’t really answer and then it was time for lunch.

At lunch I carried my tray behind the City Manager, John Tierney, who was pleasant and said he would like to meet me. When pushed he admitted to being a little surprised that the speakers who’d had their topic for months had not referred to the relevant document in any illuminating way – or, mostly, at all. It is my belief that they simply failed to do the research rather than being told by City management to keep it general. I discussed my plan for an eco-development in Dundalk. He wants the city to do one in Poolbeg.

Then I was invited by the new city architect, Ali Grehan, who is delightful, to sit with her and a bunch of planners from the CIty and its docklands, including Anthony Abbot King who wrote the City Council’s decision permitting the Clarence. Ali Grehan seems likely to be a big improvement on her predecessor [see blog below on Dublin City Architect] and I hope to meet her again soon. The conversation was animated.I spoke to a lot of city planners and councillors during the day and they were all charming. I think because I’ve been around for so long now they feel they should be pally. I’m really beginning to warm to city officials now and have almost stopped thinking about Kieran Rose.

Then I left to pick up a child, leaving the afternoon workshops to the contented multitude. I’m told it was more of the same.

Maximising

Maximising is an extraordinarily permissive and (in planning terms) dangerous document which can only lose in credibility by having its contents discussed and only gain from waffly discussion of high-rise, high density and affordable homes such as occurred today.

I here mingle An Taisce’s stance (which I compiled) with my own (expressed in a recent article in the Irish Times).

What’s the big deal?

High-density development offers nearly all the benefits of high-rise and many more – without the manifold problems of high-rise. Indeed high-rise militates against high-density.

High-Rise Strategy is Un-planned and Un-Assessed

Maximising is potentially the most damaging document for the city’s fabric ever published. It simply in effect ignores the principal appeal of Dublin which is its human scale. It is really, really unusually bad! The problem is that it’s not drafted to look like a policy and in any event the current policy is a combination of the City Development Plan and another document that was not drafted to look like policy (the DEGW study) which the City Development Plan incorporates.

Maximising is in effect a charter for high-rise in almost every area of the city.

Even the historic city centre is threatened. In any event the City’s planners regularly flout the official City plans e.g. in Ballsbridge and in their facilitation of the current proposal for the Carlton site on O’ Connell St. An Taisce is nervous about any increase in this general permissiveness. An Taisce has won nearly all its appeals to An Bord Pleanala of unplanned high-rise, that breaches City plans.

What should the City Council do?

An Taisce is open to the idea of high-rise in a limited number of locations, primarily areas in Docklands and Heuston. Beyond this An Taisce recommends that the Dublin City Manager initiate a variation to the Dublin City Development to provide that tall buildings, meaning buildings significantly higher than neighbourhood or surrounding buildings, may be considered only following adoption of Local Area Plans which should specifically provide for preservation in full of existing positive local and civic character; and should be prepared only after the fullest consultation and engagement with the public including local residents, public sector agencies, non-governmental agencies, local community groups and commercial and business interests within the area. If possible, local community groups should be afforded reasonable costs for the making of submissions on Local Area Plans.

This mechanism would provide for the proper assessment and consultation that must precede any significant change in the ethos of those parts of the city that may actually benefit (I believe there are some) from high-rise.

Background

More than a decade ago An Taisce – a charity – announced that it would appeal all unplanned high-rise in Dublin City. From Georges Quay to Spencer Dock to Ballsbridge to Smithfield it has been mostly successful in these Bord Pleanala appeals. High-rise has, since 2000, been planned only for Docklands and around Heuston. Outside of these areas An Taisce, mostly through prodigious Kevin Duff, has taken a stringent stance and on at least twenty occasions got Dublin City Council (DCC) decisions overturned – for breaching its own development plan! The pressure for high-rise has been unrelenting for all that time even though communities do not want it.

DCC officials cannot be trusted on height. For years management would overrule the city’s chief professional planner, Pat McDonnell, who took a sceptical stance on high-rise. Since Pat McDonnell was replaced by Dick Gleeson management don’t even have to overrule planners, as those in favour of high-rise are in the ascendant in the planning department too. DCC management and planners are unduly deferential to developers, and do not seem to appreciate that human scale is a big part of the city centre’s international appeal and bolsters our fragile sense of Community. DCC has granted permission for ten tall buildings in the last two years. An Taisce, often alone, made submissions to An Bord Pleanála which, for example, overturned grants of applications for permission for a 16-storey development on the north side of Thomas Street, a 13-storey apartment block at the Tivoli Theatre, a 12-storey residential scheme at School Street and a 13-storey building at Bridgefoot Street. An Taisce is currently involved in other Bord Pleanala appeals including the Arnotts redevelopment plan which involves a 16-storey element, an 11-storey development on Chancery St, a 13-storey development on Merrion Road, and the proposed demolition of most of the Clarence Hotel in favour of an oversailing cybership. DCC is also encouraging a Liberty-Hall-height sky-borne ski-slope structure over the Carlton site on O’Connell St. Inevitably these applications are dressed up in property-supplement-speak as “crystalline”, ‘sculptural”, “breathtaking” and as heralding Ireland’s arrival in the exciting big-time. The reality – as we know from O’Connell Bridge House, Liberty Hall, Georges Quay etc as well as from much of England is that there can be few urban aesthetics as depressing as an unplanned, incoherent skyline.

But DCC officials seem to think if you shovel up any old hokum about e-economies, potential-maximisation or knowledge axes and dress it up as “maturity” you can override all other public goods – including democracy and quality of life. Whose interest does the Management think it serves?

Developers know the DCC is a soft touch. This is why Treasury holdings want their 35 storey hotel to the rear of the Convention Centre to be considered by DCC and not the Docklands Authority (which has actually objected to DCC over the scheme). That is why Manor Park Homes are chancing their arm with first a 51-storey application for Thomas St and now, after rebuff, a 32-storey version. That is why Sean Dunne is trying to get DCC to agree area plans that allow high-rise in Ballsbridge – he knows that without them An Bord Pleanala will overturn the speculative permission DCC has granted him. But City Councillors are not giving their management a free rein. In a major blow to Sean Dunne, among many other speculators, they rejected management’s insidious recent plans to allow height “flexibility”, even in areas where high-rise was not supposed to be allowed.

It remains to be seen how they treat Maximising. For the moment most of them just seem confused. Even the Green party bottled it and made a submission that fails to recognise how damaging the document would be.

Dublin City is probably the only local authority in the State where the elected representatives have a more solid view of good planning than their officials. It is evident that DCC Councillors are increasingly unhappy with the advice from management. Under pressure from their communities we expect Councillors to reject the charter for widespread high-rise that management has recently presented – Maximising the City’s Potential: A Strategy for Intensification and Height (the “new strategy”).

No European capital has successfully superseded an intact low-rise historic core by high-rise. So why in 2008 is Dublin trying to? Our models should be Paris, Rome and Helsinki which have continued to thrive without succumbing to the extreme hypertrophy characteristic in American urbanism. Strict specific limitations on height must be established. We should not repeat the mistakes of London or Belfast, borrowing a pretend modern model which was developed at the turn of the last century in the US.

Height versus Density

We should all be able to agree on density. Dense development tends to serve the common good and the environment by allowing provision of an intensity of amenities and public transport. This is why An Taisce has opposed a lot of one-off-housing in the countryside. All things being equal (which they often are not) high can be good. But it must not interfere with the historic integrity of the city or diminish the amenities for locals. It is also true that high-rise structures are seldom energy efficient and that the vague prospect of high-rise conduces to speculation and associated dereliction. And of course high-density development need not be high-rise. The Georgian Fitzwilliam area is very high-density.

In Dublin City much can be achieved through high density rather than high-rise. For example we know that there are 350 hectares of Z6 and Z7 zoned land in the outer city (Naas Rd./Park West, Dublin Industrial Estate, Coolock Industrial Estate, etc) near public transport corridors, which could be developed to high densities. That, combined with a possible 250 hectares in the Port area would allow for the provision of up to 120,000 dwelling units in very high density developments at 4/5/6-storey heights with 200 units per hectare. This suggests that mere demographics and economics do not require DCC’s indulgence of high-rise.

So, where is high-rise desirable?

The answer is we do not know. All we have is a confusing, incomplete and preliminary 2000 study, by DEGW. Outside Dublin City, it is possible that, if green fields have to be rezoned, consideration should be given to high-rise where there is excellent public transport. Much soulless suburbia could actually be improved, visually and otherwise, by attractive high-rise. Beyond this, we cannot and do not know because, except for Docklands and Heuston, identified by DEGW, proper studies and proper consultation have not been carried out. Reflecting this, An Taisce favours plan-led high-rise in suitable parts of Docklands particularly, subject to improved accessibility, on the Poolbeg Peninsula where they could serve as portals to the city; and on specific sites near Heuston. There may be other possibilities: Ballymun can absorb some high-quality high-rise. Perhaps some of the commercial/industrial areas in Walkinstown, the Naas Road, parts of Crumlin and parts of Finglas might derive some architectural interest from height punctuation.. These suggestions are not definitive because they are not rooted in proper research and proper local consultation. And of course even if the site is right for high-rise, it may not be suitable for ultra-high-rise – each planning application should be subjected to a rigorous assessment of all its effects. It is crucial too that once particular areas have been deemed suitable, there should be a rigid commitment not to build high-rise – unplanned – anywhere else.

So what’s the current situation?

The 2000 DEGW Study, which has been incorporated as part of the Dublin City Development Plan 2005. seemed to recommend for the moment high buildings only in Docklands and around Heuston.

And what are we looking at?

Maximising recommends in addition: high intensity clusters in Connolly, Tara St/Georges Quay and the “Knowledge Axis” (a loaded misnomer which means everything between Grangegorman, Broadstone and the Digital Hub). It sees areas with potential for height enhancement in Dolphin’s Barn, the retail core, Phibsborough/Mountjoy, the Markets, Newmarket, Marrowbone Lane, and Ship Street. It sees prime outer city urban centres where opportunities for landmark buildings exist: Finglas, Ballymun, Rathmines, Ballyfermot, North Fringe, Northside Shopping Centre and Crumlin. It sees outer city areas with potential for height and dense development: Pelletstown, Park West, Drimnagh, Richmond Road, Chapelizod and Whitehall. As if this were not all enough the strategy “recognizes scope” for “exceptional high quality buildings with taller forms (over eight storeys)”. The “most appropriate locations” (this insidious wording suggests there are other locations) for these include “On lands within the catchments [sic] areas of Transport Nodes; In Framework Development Areas in the Inner City (the wording does not even require that the high-rise be expressly included in the framework plans – merely that the area be a framework plan area!); on the strategic flank approaches (whatever that means) to the city and on the catchall “sites of a significant scale in the Outer City”. The categorisation lumps together areas with disparate characters and fails adequately to allow for their historic characters or the appropriate conservation imperative.

In other words, overall, between areas with specific “potential”, or “opportunities” for high-rise and catchall provisions for sites close to our (growing number of) public transport stops or “of a significant scale”, nearly every area in Dublin City is fair game except the absolute historic core, described as the inner city “bowl”, though even that is ubiquitously threatened by the new strategy’s proposals for the markets area, Guinness’s (with 15-20 storeys), Thomas St/Digital Hub, Connolly, Ship St, the retail core, Tara St and Mountjoy/Phibsboro as well as by the provisions for high-rise near public transport stops and in framework plan areas.. Height is limited to eight storeys or whatever a malleable framework provides.

Beyond this, City Council Management want to enshrine height “flexibility”, even in areas where high-rise was not supposed to be allowed. City Councillors rejected management’s brazen recent plans to allow this but City Management keep coming back with permissions that breach their own plan.

Even without these almost blanket charters for high buildings and flexibility, DCC will presumably continue in practice to target the rest of the city centre (and Ballsbridge) with continuing flouting of their own development plan like the current Carlton proposal (55 metres on O’Connell St). The absence of resolve to apply clear development standards evinced by this approach makes An Taisce highly nervous about the City Council adding to its array of high-rise options.

Most of the sites contemplated in Maximising are suitable for high-density development, which serves the common good. Few of them are suitable for high-rise, which serves primarily the good of the owner and occupier

Meanwhile the underconsidered and unapproved new strategy document is already being pre-emptively quoted by DCC in particular planning matters – like the recent Jurys decision in Ballsbridge, as if it were definitive. An Taisce is continuing to appeal unplanned schemes (like Arnotts: see blog, The guillotining of Arnotts) and will do so until the assessment is carried out.

Cowen home to be demolished

Posted in News on May 10, 2008 by Editor

Old Clara                        Cowen                Imminent Demolition

No pilgrimages
Despite predictions today that 50,000 will turn out to welcome homecoming Taoiseach Brian Cowen in Clara, Co Offaly, we are unlikely to be making pilgrimage to the Cowen family home there in the long term since it is about to be demolished. Monticello it will not be.

No Tears
Presumably the fact that the demolition is of no concern to anyone close to Cowen heralds the stiff-upper-lip attitude to heritage so desirable in our chief and his powerful entourage. It is doubtful if the locals will be queueing for bricks from the great man’s former seat.

But some confusion

Normally John Drennan who writes for the Sunday Independent is vicious, however, in today’s edition he is inexplicably sappy about the Cowen pub. He hails “the decentralisation of power to Christy Cowen’s bar in Clara”. Not for long. There is no end to his mawkishness. He says “Cowen’s surprisingly passionate support of the concept of ‘Community’ is itself no mere concept. It is grounded in the belief that the Inniskeen-like paradise of Christy’s bar in Clara – with its ritual slagging, the lyrical sound of Micheal O’ Muircheartaigh in summer and its stolid farmers gleefully perusing the local death notices – is more authentic than the provincial sophistication of Dublin”. Drennan and Cowen probably share a confused cultural soft-mindedness. For if Christy’s is an analogue for Cowen’s Communitarianism, the future is libertarian.

Drennan is presumably plumbing his own soul when he declares Cowen is a “secret sentimentalist”. But sometimes sentimentalism is so secret that it is irrelevant. When the roof falls through on Christy’s, the animator will not be sentimentalism, even secret sentimentalism. It will be casual a-cultural avarice.

Home and Work for young Brian
The pub belonged to the Cowen family and was located adjacent to the family home where Brian grew up. His father, former TD Ber, who died at 52 in 1984, also worked as an auctioneer. From an early age, Brian Cowen frequently worked as a barman in the pub. He has said working there significantly influenced his outlook and character. He has two brothers — Christopher and Barry. Barry is also involved in politics and is a Fianna Fáil Councillor on Offaly County Council. Christy runs the pub.

Christy

Christy is named in the latest list of 120 tax defaulters published by the Revenue. He settled a tax bill for €96,351 during the final three months of last year.

February’s Offaly Independent reports: River Street project in Clara gets planning go-ahead

An Bord Pleanala has upheld planning permission for a major mixed commercial/residential development at River Street, Clara, Cllr Barry Cowen said last Friday. Offaly County Council had originally granted permission for the project last June. However, this decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanala by Frank Moran and others c/o Green Residents Association, who sought to have this decision overturned. The development planned for River Street in Clara will mean the demolition of four houses, a pub and the surrounding outbuildings to make way for the new venture. It will feature a three storey building over a basement carpark with 190 spaces, ground floor retail area, office space, townhouses and apartments and a public roof terrace. Cllr Cowen stated: “I note from inspector’s report that the Board gave resounding support to Offaly County Council’s decision. With specific regard to the appellant’s reasons for seeking a refusal of permission, the board felt that the applicant had made sufficient alterations and amendments to the scheme previously which, in the main, already addressed various concern of residents.” “Now that the lengthy democratic planning process has concluded, preparations can now commence for the construction of this most welcome development. The short and long term prospects this holds for job creation cannot be overstated.” “This development represents a massive investment in Clara’s economy. I look forward to it re-invigorating our town centre, breeding new life and vitality into the town,” he said. “Its success will, no doubt, encourage others to follow suit and further improve commercial activity. I am particularlly glad that this follows much residential and indeed recent industrial development in the area. Our community and hinterland can look forward to new and exciting services/facilities commensurate to recent growth.” The schemes promoter and applicant, Denis O’Connell endorsed Cllr Cowen’s comments and stated that he too was “now looking forward to next phase of preparation for commencement of construction in the coming months”.

The site

The subject two-acre site on River Street in the centre of town close to Main Street contains two detached bungalows and a single storey public house setback from the established building line of the street. An Bord Pleanala concluded that “overall the current streetscape qualities of the site are poor” and that “the buildings are in poor condition”. They will mostly be replaced at three storeys in three blocks of mixed residential/ commercial units and a basement car park with 190 spaces in an 18m Euro development.

The pub

Jody Corcoran in the Sunday Independent describes the pub as comfortable but relatively modest for a man he deemed elitist, a privileged politician. “Adorning the walls was the paraphernalia of Brian Cowen’s upbringing. An old car registration … a formal looking photo of Ber … The pub itself is dated but comfortable. Inevitably there are photographs of the successful All-Ireland teams from Offaly … an election photograph of Jack Lynch … an incongruous Elvis sign… country ‘n’ western music adding to the honky-tonk feel. There is plenty of pine and formica in evidence”. There was a magnificent and huge thatched edifice on the site until the nineteen sixties. I wonder who created the current incarnation … a kip ready for obliteration.

Clara
Clara is a relatively small town, situated in the north of Offaly, with a population of approximately 3500 people. Discouragingly its 2005 Local Area Plan envisages it as a commuter town for Tullamore. Commuting is not yet a negative in Clara.

It is unusual in Offaly as a mainly industrial town, with its history and growth largely influenced by the industries it supported. Its proximity to the Brosna river and the Grand Canal accounted for much of Clara’s early industrial development. Clara was a famous trading town in the early 19th century and was once home to successful distilleries and a brewery. It was most famous for weaving – particularly cotton and linen. It also supported the manufacturing of tobacco, soap, and candles, and a significant flour mills. Clara has some lovely old houses and demesnes. But only one most famous son.

Where will they nail the plaque?

St Colmcille’s Hospital (Loughlinstown) and Healthcare

Posted in Opinion on April 30, 2008 by Editor

About me, the system and my father

“Doctor”                Loughlinstown Hospital                Mary Harney

Avoiding Health Issues and Health Insurance

Traditionally my attitude to health and health insurance has been simple:  I avoid them.

Avoiding Doctors

I haven’t been to the doctor since the eighties. I’m the sort of person who borrows antibiotics if he gets an infection. I once took the dog’s penicillin and it worked just fine.

Staying Young
I try to take reasonable care of myself. I am 42, but think of myself for all purposes as 31, and do not intend getting either sick or old for many years. Several times a week I shake myself and thank Nature that I am 31 and still young and healthy (except for my back which doesn’t count). On some important level I worry that providing for ill health or old age could be instantly self-fulfilling.
So I have not bothered with pensions or health insurance. Until recently ….

Getting health insurance
Drenched in a fug of BertieAhernesque non-ideology, thinking vaguely of my children and suspending denial about that back, I decided a few weeks ago to buy a VIVAS discount healthcare plan thingy on the internet, even though I have no real idea what VIVAS is and don’t believe in healthcare, still less PRIVATE healthcare. I’m now worried if I have any spare cash I’ll buy a pension. Prophylactics against decline.

Worried by my behaviour, I have decided it is time to work out what I think about healthcare and take the consequences.

Doctors
I hate doctors. They never told me anything I had not worked out for myself. They expect you to call them Dr and manoeuvre you into doing so. In hospitals they sweep around the place and don’t explain anything.

I think I dislike the inequality of the Dr/Patient relationship. It is humiliating to have someone know more about you than you do yourself, especially about something that really matters. Worse still if they are overcharging or hubristic. And it is calamitous if they are wrong, or you think they are. About you!

My own largely irrelevant instinctual antipathy to doctors is reinforced on a more serious level by recent mistakes in medicine relating to breast cancer in Portlaoise and the removal of a child’s wrong kidney.

A 1999 study in the US revealed that 98,000 people died as a direct result of a mistake by a clinician every year, and one million more ended up significantly worse off than they were when they were admitted. In the US, more people die receiving treatment than perish from car and plane crashes, suicides, falls, poisonings and drownings. In other words, by the time you finish reading this piece, an American citizen will have died as a direct result of a bungling medic. Or, as the British Medical Journal put it, baggage handlers have a better success rate at their jobs. This is all according to an excellent article by Jennifer O’Connell in last week’s Sunday Business Post.

Good Luck
I don’t think about health problems for myself (except for that back) and most of the time I don’t know anyone who suffers from them. Essentially I have a long-standing cosy and abstract lack of practical interest in the national health system. I’m lucky.

Quality of Life and Health
Having an interest in planning I am concerned with the national quality of life. On an academic level I know that health is an Important and problematic component of it.

Marching
In this spirit I was happy to join a friend on her fact-finding mission to the recent giant health-services march in Dublin City Centre, though I am not a natural marcher. I was a little unhappy that most of the banners failed to offer specific solutions, beyond terminating the PDs.

What do I want/When do I want it?

Marching is all very well but it is important to be constructive about what you want. You have to outline your goals before you can meet them. For healthcare the aims must be surely be equality and efficiency – the vision and the strategy respectively. I suspect the health system in Ireland, like for example the post-War education system in Britain, is caught between ideology and practicality. Allowing equality to be sacrificed for alleged improved efficiency. It is this that accounts for the PDs’ infatuation with co-located private and public hospitals.

If I was involved I’d monitor and measure the outputs of the health service and strive to improve them annually.

I also believe in equal access to healthcare and it is clear that Mary Harney has little time for equality of any sort in any sphere. Although the health strategy is called “Quality and Fairness” Susie Long died after waiting seven months for a colonoscopy, while private patients wait just days for the procedure.

Systemic problems
I have honestly never heard a clear and plausible vision articulated of precisely where the service is going wrong, though the marchers clearly thought that was self-evident.

I guess it must be highly significant that both the Department of Finance and Comptroller and Auditor General have said the HSE does not spend money efficiently. I also feel it cannot help that only 1000 public hospital beds have been added when three thousand were promised in 2001.

I suppose my suspicion is that the health service is run in the interests of those who run it, especially the (I think overpaid) consultants whose contracts have not yet been finalised and whose numbers have not yet started to increase. This reflects the Ahernesque national willingness to indulge the noisiest vested interests [See blog, Bertie Ahern below]. Another big Irish problem is that no-one ever bothered to define the respective areas of responsibility of the HSE and Department of Health. In March Mary Harney said no one person, including herself, is responsible for the “systemic failures” that led to the failures to diagnose breast cancer in nine women in the Midland Regional Hospital at Portlaoise – and she can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. And no-one is assigning responsibility for the unintended removal of that child’s kidney.

I recently got a close-quarters look at the system.

My father
My poor seventy-nine year old father found himself two weeks ago in the back of an ambulance at one o’clock in the morning unable to breathe properly.

St Colmcille’s (Loughlinstown) Hospital
He was taken to the nearest hospital to our family home – to a public ward in St Colmcille’s Loughlinstown Hospital with what turned out to be pneumonia in both lungs. It seemed to take a week before the doctors worked out the best medication for this. We thought of moving him to somewhere more prepossessing like St Vincent’s but the dangers both to his health and to his morale seemed disproportionate. Somehow too there is something impersonal and alienating about these sprawling part-private hospitals. Meanwhile he was stuck for what turned into two weeks in a fluorescent yellow public space that was a cross between a ward and a corridor, with the prevailing misery spiced by the intermittent agonies of the elderly patients. St Colmcille’s started life as a famine workhouse and has probably always been a sad place. And yet my father was not complaining.

Death trap?
The staff (in this case including the doctors) have been vastly obliging and friendly. Still, my confidence in Loughlinstown Hospital – and, I was told, morale in the hospital – was not helped by the front-page news last week that 16 elderly people died there of hospital-acquired superbugs in 2007. The Dublin County Coroner’s office implied St Columcille’s Hospital was the least hygienic in Dublin. In other words Loughlinstown Hospital is to be avoided like the um plague.

Contradiction

Getting back to the patient himself, fortunately he missed the news story and he has nothing but positive things to say about Loughlinstown, particularly the staff . The unattractive conditions do not seem to have been important to him. I can only think that because the hospital is all public wards there is not the underpinning of inequality, the humiliating sense that some of the motivation for some of the decisions – and therefore for some of the staff – is PROFIT rather than patient benefit that undermines the sense of solidarity in adversity that seems to me to drive Loughlinstown Hospital.

Conclusion
My conclusion is that in health, as in education, lack of vision and strategy, vested interest and hypocrisy account for a lot. Inequality underpins our system. Surprisingly, systemic lack of equality can be at least as frustrating for patients as lack of efficiency. In general, healthcare is good, though bad, sometimes shockingly bad, at the edges. It is one of the consequences of being rich and European as a country, that we have a right to be angry about this.

Trying to stop the Clarence Hotel demolition at An Bord Pleanala’s oral hearing

Posted in News on April 15, 2008 by Editor

cannibalised quay      loss-making hotelier          Cape Canaveral

Day 2:

Edge is all over the papers, steered there by Breda Keena, who used to do PR for An Taisce! He reckons demolishing the quay is a coup for Dublin. A little immodest I would say given if it’s a coup it’s his coup. U2 should write a song about their vision of facade-retention on the quayscape: where the streets have no shame. Also they’re bleating again about how much money they’ve lost on the hotel. But they’ve made a fortune in capital appreciation on it. If they close it out of pique someone else will buy it and do what they should – extend it into the shells of the adjoining buildings.

It’s scandalous how many professionals read their scripts today. Not just overpaid but boring too. On average there were at least five people asleep at any time in the warm room, shut down by the minutiae of the Ministerial architectural guidelines. At one stage I found myself asleep – during my own presentation. Of course the anger ups the temperature. I raised the heat at least a degree when I responded to the City Council’s submission. The principal guide for the city’s planners is supposed to be the City Development Plan. Kieran Rose, the City planner, referred to it not once except for a bald reference to the zoning – preferring instead some abstruse philosophy manual about “memory boxes”. Do the elected representatives know that the document they so industriously and democratically created is flouted in favour of a book on boxes? Incidentally Kieran Rose is Mr high-rise also – having put his name to the Dunne decision in Ballsbridge and several ill-placed towers on Thomas St. The City’s conservation architect sits next to him but she’s not been allowed to speak so far. She just sits there, a mute monument to thwarted democracy. Mr Rose determines many important decisions for the local authority but luckily he loses them in An Bord Pleanala. I have never spoken to the Conservation Architect but she looks like if he loses this one she will be extra happy.

Day 1:

The Bord Pleanala oral hearing started today in the usual sunless room on Marlborough St. It was my first one in a good few years and it felt much the same. The portals heavy with the smell of overpaid professionals and fear. Impossible to say if they all hate each other but are pretending to like each other or the reverse. And journalists desperate for a one-minute crash course in planning, the Universe and everything. There were a lot of them today. An Taisce was good – Ian Lumley, Kevin Duff and James Kelly. All the international hotels Foster and Partners aim to replicate in the demolished Clarence turn out to be conservation jobs! At lunch I came home to eat and finished the presentation I should have finished last night. I also decided to perfect the shave I started this morning but the razor gave me a rash. That’s always the way with razors: look for too much from them on a special occasion and they fight back. Marlborough Street was lively with Hillery fans. Where have they been these intervening years? I passed Albert Reynolds looking wrinkly in a black Mercedes as I made my hurried way back – late – after lunch. I was on at 215. It was fine and I managed to dish some descriptions of the fundamental problems with a scheme that breaks all the rules – at a forum that’s keen on the rules. The Edge sat down opposite me after I’d been going a few minutes. After that I took out the personal bits since better to be kind when we’re probably going to have to help them with a revised application after they get turned down. He was inscrutable under that hat thing. I had to leave early to pick up a child so I’m on again tomorrow.

The Clarence is the biggest proposed demolition of protected (i.e. listed) structures in more than ten years in Dublin. But most of the buildings’ facades will be retained and a “Skycatcher” built overhead.

Damning letters have recently been sent from the Department of the Environment and Failte Ireland (formerly Bord Failte). It should not get permission. Bord Pleanala usually applies national standards. Thankfully since the Planning Act of 2000 standards are quite high for preventing demolitions of protected structures.

It will be a tense and probably bad-tempered three days. Here’s my written submission to An Bord Pleanala.

10 Dec 2007

The Secretary
An Bord Pleanala
Marlborough St
Dublin 1

Re: 1394/07 Demolition and Rebuild behind façade of Clarence Hotel, Dollard House, 9-12 Wellington Quay etc

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to appeal the demolition behind facade of the Clarence Hotel, the Georgian buildings at 9-12 Wellington Quay and the former Dollard printing works. These are among the most distinguished quayfront buildings in the City and are all in good or excellent condition. Two of the buildings and four facades are protected structures. In an era of aspirant sustainability the proposed destructions behind facades betray an anachronistic insensitivity, especially from people – in the case of the U2 members – with an acute sense of modern mores. This is the biggest demolition of historic and protected structures in more than a decade – indeed since the legislation providing for “protected structures” was introduced in 2000. It brazenly conflicts with the City Development Plan, national legislation and national guidelines.

The quays
The quays are an important element in the integrity of Dublin. For example the Liffey is the City’s most important determinant of place and the quays iconically frame the most famous pictures and postcards of Dublin.

In 1974 the Architectural Review produced a classic supplement called, A Future for Dublin. The editor, Kenneth Browne, singled out the Liffey Quays. “Without question it is the quays which give topographical coherence to Dublin. They are the frontispiece to the city and the nation. These riverside buildings are the essential Dublin . . . grand, yet human in scale, varied yet orderly, they present a picture of a satisfactory city community; it is as though two ranks of people were lined up, mildly varying in their gifts, appearance and fortune, but happily agreed on basic values. Individually unremarkable as works of architecture, collectively they are superb, and form a perfect foil to the special buildings such as the Four Courts and the Custom House. If they are allowed to disintegrate, to be replaced by unsympathetic new buildings, the most memorable aspect of the city will be lost.” As the City Conservation Architect observes in her report on this scheme, “Dublin’s beauty as a capital and its claim to being one of the greatest of surviving Georgian cities depends on its whole fabric of streetscapes rather than a collection of resounding buildings – the quiet ease of understatement, something rarely found in Europe. The river Liffey has always had a charismatic presence within the city. Its quays ‘grand yet human in scale’ … provide coherence to the city, backbone to an intimate, humorous capital. Almost all of its most significant buildings – the Custom House, Trinity College, the Parliament Building, City Hall, Christ Church Cathedral, Four Courts, Blue-coat school, the Royal Barracks, Royal Hospital and Phoenix Park – are located within a few minutes walking distance of its quays”.

Wellington Quay is an eastward extension of the original Custom House quay where Thomas Burgh’s Custom House stood for a hundred years from 1704. It is one of the better-preserved quays with a critical mass of historic buildings.

The site in the context of the quays
The Clarence and Dollard House are important examples of late-Nineteenth/early-Twentieth-Century mid-size buildings. They form a counterbalance on the one hand to the set-piece buildings such as the Four Courts, Custom House and Civic Offices and on the other to the simple “soldier-like” Georgian and Victorian houses. The ensemble of these three forms characterizes the subtlety of the quays, Dublin’s most important artery – grand yet human in scale.

The proposed scheme
Although the architect, Lord Foster, describes the proposed development as “a confident yet sympathetic civic presence” and planner Anthony Abbot-King, in his last decision before leaving the Council for the Docklands Authority, felt it was “an exemplary design solution”, I consider that in fact the proposal is contextually illiterate showing no awareness of the importance, subtlety or uniqueness of Dublin’s quays. It provides for a parodying ragbag Leviathan of all the three forms, oversailed by a greedy cybership. The effect is to create a silly setpiece on the scale of the Civic Offices but comprising a mismatch of eviscerated typologies under a single roofscape which is somewhat redolent of the Civic Offices. The idiom is a none-too-humble Georgian-Galactica-Deco

The days of grateful fawnings over international (or in this case intergalactic) architecture on Dublin’s landmark sites should be over. Essex Street, Wellington Quay and the quays generally are first-rate historic environments – not Cape Canaveral. The site integrates first rate exemplars of Dublin’s rich quayscape. They should not be subsumed into one Spaceship.

The imposed new Gargantua would be particularly overwhelming because of the width of the river and quays. It is entirely inappropriate that a private hotel, rather than a great public building, would dominate classic views of the city quays, “overwhelming”, as the City Architect notes, the Four Courts and important views of City Hall. She goes on, “the urban silhouette or Stadtbild should be an advertisement for civic priorities rather than commercial branding”.

As part of the process of destruction and imposition the scheme also promotes “facadism” a device that in serious architectural circles has been generally left behind. This is reflected in the Department of the Environment Guidelines to Local Authorities on Development Control which see facadism as: “rarely an acceptable compromise, as only in exceptional circumstances would the full special interest of the structure be retained”. As the City Conservation Architect comments, “Facadism is a meaningless discredited architectural device”. Norman Foster appears to have been dozing when his scheme embraced it.

The planning context

Zoning
Inevitably therefore the proposal conflicts with the Z5 zoning for the site, the stated objective for which is “To consolidate and facilitate the development of the central area, and to identify, reinforce, strengthen and protect its civic design character and dignity”.

Development Plan Policies
It also conflicts with Dublin City Development Plan Policy H15 which states ‘It is the policy of Dublin City Council that new buildings in conservation areas should complement the character of the existing architecture in design, materials and scale’. Patently the scheme does nothing to reinforce or complement the dignity of the quays or the character of the existing architecture.

The substantial demolition of these buildings also abnegates Conservation Area Policy H13, which states “It is the policy of Dublin City Council to protect … [the] historic fabric of conservation areas in the control of development”.

It also conflicts with the following sections of the Dublin City Development Plan:

Section 10.2.1 of the Development Plan which states: “The River Liffey and its quays is a designated conservation area. The establishment of riverside quays with buildings facing onto the river was the single most important intervention in shaping the city. Today the character of the quays is defined by the existing historic fabric, new build, the height and setting of buildings, the quays bridges and port area, the curving nature of the river and the vistas which emerge along its course.”

Policy H16 states: “It is the policy of Dublin City Council to protect and reinforce the important civic design character of Dublin’s quays, which are designated a conservation area and infill development should complement the character of the quays in terms of context, scale and design.”

National Guidelines
The proposal conflicts with the DoEHLG Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines for Planning Authorities for dealing with roof alteration proposals. Section 9.2.7 of the guidelines state: “Roofs of protected structures should retain their original form and profile and should not be radically altered, for example, to provide extra accommodation …”

The buildings.
The buildings are all of regional significance. This means they are buildings which make a significant contribution to the architectural heritage within their region or area –
in this case the iconic city quays.

Wellington Quay frontage
The Clarence itself is a unique remaining example of an eclectic mélange of stripped classical/ Arts and Crafts/Art Deco architecture. It was rebuilt in 1939 by Bradbury and Evans and extended upwards in 1996 with the addition of a copper-clad penthouse. The building won a conservation award as recently as 2005 from the RIAI for its conversion. So why demolish it? Dollard House is a fine late-nineteenth Century (1886) Commercial Building of Elizabethan style and in good condition. It is said to have been protected in part because of its manifestation of technical innovation.

The adjoining quayfront houses are late Georgian and of good quality for the quays. Christine Casey in Dublin (2005) states that No 10, the former Working Man’s Club retains much early C19 detail and alterations by WH Beardwood in 1885. Planner Anthony Abbot-King considered that the four Georgian buildings were in “poor to very poor condition” even though the City Conservation Architect’s view was the owners ”have neglected routine maintenance and allowed the external facades to deteriorate into a superficially scruffy condition but otherwise the buildings are in good structural condition”. Mr Abbot-King is neither an architect nor an engineer. It will be interesting to see how the City Council explains this extraordinary contradiction.

The proposal undermines the typical heterogeneous quayfront charm of the site by demolishing the interior and corrupting the external ethos of each of these ensembles severally by incorporating the Clarence within a Fosteresque twenty-first-Century rockstar bubble.
All the buildings have good interiors which are protected. There is no reason, and no reason given, to demolish them. The interiors of the Georgian houses and of the Clarence’s Octagon Bar and Tea Room are of good quality by any standards. Removing them (even to replace some of them) is not an appropriate use of scarce resources, physical and cultural.

Essex St.
I concur with the City Conservation Architect that, “the severe Essex Street facades of the Hotel and Dollard House form a pleasing foil to the more exuberant brick building across the street. The relationship of the height of these buildings to the narrow width and short length of this street results in a pleasant introduction to the Temple Bar quarter”. Essex Street which was opened in 1674 would have its character irredeemably altered by the undulating glazed screen proposed in the development which bears no relationship to the surrounding buildings. The Essex St elevation is one of the most characteristic Temple Bar frontages and the proposed non-contextual and boastful treatment with a greedy gable on Essex St will mirror nothing so much as the effect of the current frontage when viewed from Aston Quay.

Protected Facades
As regards the houses whose facades only are protected I draw the City Council’s attention to the Ministerial Guidelines on Architectural Protection (2005) §2.5.2 which state “although it is possible to give protection to part only of a structure, the initial assessment should include the whole of the structure including the interior and rear of the structure, the land in its curtilage and any structures within its curtilage before it is established that only a specified part of the structure is worthy of protection”.

I therefore submit that the substantial demolition of these buildings conflicts with Section 15.10.3 of the Development Plan which states that “The re-use of older buildings of significance is a central element in the conservation of the built heritage of the city and important to the achievement of sustainability …” The contrived and mostly a-contextual reuse of some important elements within the scheme entails so much energy as not to be sustainable. It entirely ignores the first rule of conservation which is minimal intervention, particularly in the case of good buildings.

Owners
Some of the applicants were implicated in the 1996 bastardization of the Clarence through the construction of a lumpen over-parapet roof . This should preclude them from arguing that the current building needs to be improved by demolition and further flashy extension. Their current proposal does even more damage to the subtle and fragile rhythm of the quays than their earlier adventure. Of course that divagation was tax-fuelled (like most of the protagonists’ schemes). The common good is not served by allowing the richest people in Ireland to build with the benefit of tax incentives only to demolish when they get bored.

The fact that the current owners are not up to running a hotel, having allegedly lost up to 18 million Euro on their plaything, does not give them a right to demolish it and start again. The owners’ interest in this hotel, honourably nurtured in the ‘90s in a desire to preserve a venerable if ramshackle Dublin institution, now owes more to a fetish for glamour than any interest in sustainability or even hotel-running. The owners clearly still have not found what they are looking for. Without presuming too much, I venture it is not a hotel.

The City Council has indulged U2 and Mr McKillen (who is addicted to façade-retention) enough elsewhere. If assessed for good-old-fashioned rockstar glamour (Big, New, 150m Euro: Man) this proposal is a success. Unfortunately for its owners the Clarence Hotel is not a pair of sunglasses or a Hat. The proposal should be considered for its legality and contribution to proper planning and sustainable development only.

Architects
I would have expected a holistic approach to this sensitive site from this practice. Foster and Partners’ website asserts that they “design by challenging – by asking the right questions”. In this case the first question they asked should have been how do they integrate rather than destroy the existing buildings.

They also claim that they are “guided by a sensitivity to the culture and climate of place” but have applied for a cannibalistic behemoth.

The Law
The 2000 Planning and Development Act provides: (10) (a) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that a planning authority or the Board on appeal—

(i) in considering any application for permission in relation to a protected structure, shall have regard to the protected status of the structure, or

(b) A planning authority, or the Board on appeal, shall not grant permission for the demolition of a protected structure or proposed protected structure, save in exceptional circumstances.

The DoEHLG Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines for Planning Authorities (Section 6.8.11) under the Planning & Development Act 2000 provide that ‘permission may only be granted for the demolition of a protected structure in exceptional circumstances. Where a proposal is made to demolish such a structure, it requires the strongest justification before it can be granted permission and will require input from an architect or engineer with specialist knowledge so that all options, other than demolition, receive serious consideration ’

The additional information submitted by the applicants does not indicate serious consideration, as opposed to self-conscious self-justification.

I also submit that the planning authority cannot have regard to the protected status of these structures: elegant, unique, contextual, landmarks in good or excellent condition and at the same time permit their demolition. It is extraordinary that The Irish Times could quote a Mr Bow of Foster and Partners to the effect that the city council’s planners were “hugely supportive” of this scheme and it can be only this knee-jerk enthusiasm that shepherded the scheme to permission in teeth of all the rules.

Exceptional Circumstances
The 2000 Act states: ‘A planning authority, or the Board on appeal, shall not grant permission for the demolition of a protected structure or proposed protected structure, save in exceptional circumstances.’

The Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines for Planning Authorities issued by the Department of Environment Local Government – statutory guidelines issued under the Act) at 6.8.14 –6.8.16 elaborate circumstances where demolition or partial demolition may be acceptable. They include where there is obscuring of an important feature, in case of fire and where there is danger. They do not include reasons of ordinary economic imperative. They seem to be very specific and seem to admit of no further exceptions.

General
In their response to a request for additional information the applicants signally failed to show the existence of exceptional circumstances. Most of their effort goes into showing what they perceive to be exceptional merit for their scheme or the allegedly exceptional importance of certain benefits or economic and rejuvenation policy goals. These are not circumstances. Circumstances are the ineradicable background to the application. Exceptionality requires more than just the whim of developers or a vague policy goal. It requires circumstances that border on the unique. If there are exceptional circumstances they should be of a clear type that would constitute a general imperative. Such could be the case with a dangerous or destroyed protected structure (though An Bord Pleanala found such factors insufficient in the recent refusal of an application to demolish the inaccurately-alleged birthplace of Richard Brinsley Sheridan on Dorset St). It could also be the case in unique circumstances such as existed in Lansdowne Road where permission was granted for demolition of a protected rugby clubhouse as a vital piece of new national sports infrastructure had nowhere else realistic to go. Such demolitions do not undermine the essence of hard-won legislation. A permission for this particular scheme, on the other hand, would initiate open-season for demolitions of good buildings for economic reasons or economic whims.

Dublin City Council’s Logic
The Dublin City Council planner apprehends the existence of exceptional circumstances for economic reasons and through the proposal to reinstate facades and some internal room volumes, the importance of “continuity hotel use” and the need to rejuvenate the west end of Temple Bar. The logic is circumstance-free and exception-free rigmarole.

Car parking and swimming pools
The applicants’ belief that there is an exceptional need to pander to the international five-star punter’s alleged insistence on underground parking and swimming pools is special pleading. If the Clarence is good enough at the moment for Bill Clinton who stayed there on his recent visit (and is a renowned connoisseur of international penthousing) and me (a neighbour and sometime frequenter of the Clarence), frankly it will – particularly if extended and upgraded – be good enough for them!

Economic Reasons
The applicants argued that there were exceptional circumstances in the positive influence the hotel will have on Dublin internationally and the help it will give the Irish economy to retain its reputation as progressive and sustainable. These are not circumstances but perceived benefits.

Owners’ Financial Plight
The ephemeral financial vicissitudes of the rockstar owners (and friends) – exacerbated by their inexplicable decision to close their excellent night-club and the loss of status (e.g. its removal from the Bridgestone Guide) of the attractive Tea Rooms Restaurant – are of no legitimate planning concern.

Owners’ Pique
It has been alleged by the applicants that failure to get approval for the ambitious scheme to redevelop and extend Dublin’s Clarence Hotel could lead to its owners – including U2’s Bono and The Edge – selling the property. It seems most unlikely that the alternative to the proposed scheme would “most likely be a down-market budget hotel or . . . the closing of a long-established Dublin landmark business”. If the current owners cannot run the hotel that does not mean that others – especially with the addition of the adjoining buildings that are included in this application and the re-opening of closed-down sections of the buildings such as the former Kitchen night-club – cannot run a profitable business.

Catalyst for Regeneration
Even if future regeneration were a circumstance, I do not accept that a five-star hotel would or could be the catalyst for regeneration along the quays, will bridge the gap between east and west Temple Bar and form a vibrant social hub between the two.” Whatever their other merits, five star hotels are always exclusive and never form bridges of any sort. Hotels such as the Westin were proposed as catalysts, engines of regeneration etc but are closed off and contribute nothing to their areas.

Quality of new building
The applicants’ urban design consultant Richard Coleman states that “the combination of the clients’ vision and their architects’ response have resulted in an exceptional building that deserves to be considered within the parameters of exceptional circumstances”. I do not consider that an exceptional new building (for the future) constitutes an exceptional circumstance which by definition is a feature of the present.

Need for an icon
The applicants state that “Whilst total demolition is inappropriate for this site, partial demolition is vital for Dublin to have a major building of equal stature and importance to the Swiss Re headquarters [ the ‘Gherkin’ in London], which would create substantial benefits for the continued growth of Dublin city”. I submit that the scale and simplicity of the gherkin rendered it inevitably a major building of a stature greater than the weird behemoth that would be the New Clarence. The Clarence would not be a clear icon like the buildings with which the additional information seeks to draw unlikely comparisons but rather a silly setpiece subsumed into a cyber spaceship – and in the wrong place.

The condition of all the buildings proposed for demolition is good or excellent. As a matter of law quality of new-build cannot constitute exceptional circumstances. This is a matter I am prepared to litigate. In any event the architectural quality of this scheme is dubious in the context.

Alternatives to Demolition
The Departmental Guidelines to Local Authorities say “All options, other than demolition [must] receive serious consideration”.

As to the issue of why it was not thought possible to alter and reuse the existing buildings, the architects say this was not viable, “due to the many constrictions of the modest interiors of all six of the buildings”. But they fail to elaborate on how this makes it “impossible” rather than merely more expensive or perhaps less conducive to the sterile tastes of an effete international jet set.

The architects say the proposed redevelopment is necessary if the Clarence is to become “a world hotel that fits into the highest echelon of this genre, to be mentioned in the same breath as the Burj Al Arab in Dubai or Raffles Hotel in Singapore”. Neither of these involved gratuitous demolition. The applicants cite inspirational hotels to help evaluate the proposals but from the Art Deco example of Claridges to the Ritz in Paris all the examples are hotels which have retained and adapted their historic buildings.

The architects say upgrading the Clarence to provide 114 large bedrooms and 28 suites “can only be accommodated by demolishing significant parts of the existing fabric” – as had been done to create the Great Court of the British Museum in London, which was also designed by Foster + Partners. They have failed to prove this. Indeed they do not even seem to have seen proof as their goal.

General Illegality
I also suggest that the treatment of this scheme is already illegal as it should have been refused for want of the proof of the existence of exceptional circumstances. In Illium Properties Ltd v Dublin City Council [2004] I.E.H.C 327; unreported, O’ Leary J, October 15 2004, the High Court held that if the information as submitted with the application did not demonstrate “exceptional circumstances” then planning permission should have been refused, rather than further information sought.

Procedure
As an elementary point – one that would not have been lost on a less arrogant developer – the correct procedure for demolition of these protected structures is clear, if inadvisable in this case. As the City Conservation Architect notes, “There is a procedure to be followed in the event of an applicant making an argument that a building does not merit Protected status. The building is assessed and, if appropriate, put before the Councillors for de-listing. The applicant was made aware of this procedure six months ago and this office questions why the correct procedure has not been followed”. The architectural heritage protection guidelines for local authorities [at 6.8.12] state that this is to avoid “setting a precedent”.

Recommendation
The City Council’s permission has the air of a rubber stamping by breathless Foster and U2 fans with a misplaced obsession with tiring cliches like “signature buildings” and “the knowledge economy”. Bono and the Edge deserve credit for restoring the interior of the hotel in the 1990s. They should now expand it into the other adjoining buildings they own but they should keep their exterior shells and not demolish them. It’s simple. The current scheme blatantly breaches not just the Council’s own plan but government legislation and guidelines and has no place in any mature vision of the future of Dublin. It should be refused on its own terms and as a precedent.
In many ways I am merely trying to save the applicants from themselves. In other contexts they of course appreciate the quality of their propertyholding – and their own laudable role in enhancing its interior at least. The hotel itself, for example, writes on its website: “A part of the Dublin scene since 1852, The Clarence Hotel was purchased in 1992 by two members of the rock group U2, Bono and The Edge. They took on the task of restoring The Clarence, creating their own vision of the ideal place to stay. Its design merges the traditional and the contemporary to create an environment with its own unique and welcoming personality. Arts and crafts style frames the basis of the interior with a subtle palette of the finest natural materials: Portland stone, American white oak, Italian limestone, leather and velvet”.http://www.travelintelligence.net/php/hotels/htls.php?id=146&gclid=CJitnKGp3IoCFUMLQgodyDcV2g. Every day ten times a bus passes my house and the tour guide points at the Clarence and delivers a noisy awestruck spiel about the price of the rooms and its “cool” owners. Presumably the visitors do not anticipate its demolition at their hands.

Expert Submissions
Finally I would ask that An Bord Pleanala seek submissions from the Heritage Council and the Department of the Environment. Although the Department of the Environment always comments on applications for demolition of protected structures, a previous submission was thwarted under the previous government. If there is an oral hearing it would be advisable also to hear from Dublin City Council’s Conservation Architect.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Smith