Archive for the News Category

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


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


Faltering high-rise agenda

Posted in News on June 3, 2008 by Editor

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


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 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.


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 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 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?

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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”. 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

Arnotts guillotined

Posted in News on March 27, 2008 by Editor
NEWS 27 March 2008

Arnotts          their Chairman, Richd Nesbitt             Carlton Cinema

Arnotts got guillotined yesterday in their bid to bring high-rise shopping to a salivating city centre.

An Bord Pleanala has told them to clip their proposed sixteen- storey tower on the Liffey St/Abbey St corner back to seven storeys; and reduce the height at other points, where they’d chanced their arm with heavyweight embellishment above what even a four year old could see was the natural height for expansion. Arnotts have to go back to the Bord with new drawings providing for these changes before June.

Actually overall Arnotts’ plan isn’t so bad, at least if you think more shopping in general represents progress and have had enough of cheap 1990s ironmongery, sunless internal signposts and basement chipboard. It provides for a useful amount of residential accommodation, public space and a new street – and in a part of the country that is well served by public transport.

But there are luminous problems with the proposal. For example it proposes pivoting (i.e. demolishing and rebuilding) half of that boring old 1890s redbrick protected structure on Henry St (you know the one that you thought WAS Arnotts) around. This is so the venerable retailers can insert their new street and have half of the shop’s main facade there instead, meeting the surviving half at a right angle.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the guillotining is that it indicates An Bord Pleanala is highly unlikely to have any truck with the Liberty-Hall height ski-slope thing Joe (Dundrum) O’Reilly is about to lodge for the former Carlton site on O’Connell St which includes (trading under the name Dr Quirkey’s) the site of a strangely under-investigated illegal gaming arcade.

This slapping down of significant parts of the Arnotts’ proposal, we can be sure, will bring shame to the face of not one of the priss-pot architects who spearhead such schemes but who, like most of the press, seem unaware of what spoilsport Bord Pleanala does, which is to apply the plans that the City Council ignores – cutting out gratuitous height and demolitions.

Nor will red-facedness at being exposed for blatant have-a-goery ever spread up over the architects’ black polos, or out from behind their clever glasses. And if in ten years someone has to knock down what they are now proposing will ere a rosey blush taint their musings. Not for one second. Why do I predict this? Because ten years ago I appeared at an oral hearing in An Bord Pleanala where the usual sniffy architectural self-righteousness led to a permission to build a lot of what Arnotts are now bullishly applying to junk!

Joe O’Reilly, spurred by the audacity of Arnotts, is also proposing to shift the facade of the Carlton Cinema on wheels Northward down O’Connell St (you think I’m joking?) so he too can insert a street that will feed into Henry St. It’s all part of the exciting Louis Vuittonising and permeation of Henry St, which has the highest footfall of any street in Europe.

Maybe one or two of the feet, that currently fall only in multi-storey-car parks all over the South City and would never chance an outing in the terrifying North Inner City, might start falling down Capel St: former furniture Mecca of Ireland, now (due to its dosser shopowners) the Chinese restaurant, dildo and charity-shop epicentre of the Universe. Or even make it to forgotten Ormond Quay where I live, where only the most desperate feet ever fall and where you’d be grateful for anyone even contemplating building something inanely high.

Environmentalists’ Policies

Posted in News on March 17, 2008 by Editor

20 March 2008

John GormleyDavid Healy Poolbeg
Minister John Gormley; David Healy, ministerial adviser and before that on original Editorial Committee for submission; Poolbeg, Unsustainable Development


ABOVE IS the environmental sector (EENGO – don’t ask!)  submission on the national sustainable development strategy (NSDS). Please try to read it. It’s the most important document ever to have come from the environmental sector. I think it is a very bad document. I’m sorry this is so long but here’s why.


I’m a former chairman of An Taisce (1999-2003) and a founder member of EENGO, though obviously these comments are offered in a personal capacity.EENGO includes nearly all the campaigning environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth, An Taisce, Feasta etc – around seventeen in total. The EENGO submission contains many radical and interesting ideas but sadly is simply not of the quality necessary for this the most important topic for environmentalists – from a sector that aspires to being taken into social partnership within a few years. Government is keen that the environmental sector should collaborate more. This document – its substance and its process – augurs badly for such collaboration. I believe the document must be rescinded as it undermines the credibility of the environmental sector. I am aware this document has already been sent to the Minister for the Environment and would have commented on it if I had been aware of it.

The Critique

1. Not Strategic
The National Sustainable Development Strategy should be strategic. Any submission on it should be strategic. The EENGO submission is largely utopian not strategic. It does not say how we get from where we are now (very unsustainable) to where we should be (sustainable). It largely outlines what we might look like once we are sustainable. And even here it makes little effort to justify its vision. It ignores a wealth of NGO experience in this sort of strategic thinking.

Much of the EENGO submission is absorbed with ownership rather than the environment.

2. Not practical
The EENGO submission underemphasises the practical changes that would transform the system. It ignores the wealth of NGO experience in monitoring and advocating mitigation of patterns of unsustainability. For example it does not emphasise the problems environmental NGOs encounter everyday such as rhetoric without enforcement; aspirations without timetables, targets or funding; short-termism; failure to integrate environmental goals with economic and social goals; lack of clarity of environmental goals; failure to decouple environmental degradation from economic growth; failure to give sustainable price signals; failure to plan; breaches of development and other plans; political intervention with professional environmentalists and planners; failures to apply European Law; inadequate assessments of the effects of proposals: incomplete EISs, no SEAs etc etc. Each of these problems has a practical remedy. The EENGO submission is dangerous because it goes into detail as if it were a precise response to actual practical problems but does not identify or address those actual problems. It is particularly surprising that it puts no emphasis on the need to enforce existing standards.

The EENGO submission notes [p18] that “the EENGO network is well informed from years of monitoring, commenting and campaigning on environmental issues” but the submission has been driven largely by an ideology, not experience or the lessons of campaigning.

It is highly significant that the document has nothing to say about cities or suburbs (and little to say about towns) – where most of our citizens live and will continue to live.

3. Inadequate mandate
The content of the EENGO submission has not been mandated. For example An Taisce has not had the submission’s policies approved by its Council. The document appears to have been written by a small number of people and many of its ideas are not as clear or coherent as they would be if they had been agreed line-by-line by a representative committee. Occasional name-calling and gratuitous swipes reinforce this sense.

Page 18 says merely NGOS are not against the economic and social content of the document. It says somewhat revealingly, “as many of our member NGOs have expertise in only a very particular area, not all actively support all of the ideas contained in the submission, particularly as they relate to social and economic issues. However, they are not either, against any of them as they respect the expertise of NGOs with a wider field of interest to contribute their recommendations”. Merely not being against something is not enough to give EENGO a mandate to publish a document in a group’s name. What mandate did component members seek and get from their members? I believe An Taisce did not, for example, put the document before its Council, as required. Many of the policies cut across agreed An Taisce policies.

There has been inadequate consultation of organisations’ members – though the submission says there has been, and the Department of the Environment requested it [p8].

4. Probably had no agreed written brief so some environmental issues have been omitted
Was there an agreed written brief for the submission reflecting a sectoral environmental vision? The approach seems desultory and haphazard. Many sectors seem to be treated in line with submissions received rather than with a view to proportionality, coherence or completeness. Perhaps for this reason some sections are strikingly discursive, laced with sage quotations, and too long – while others are paltry and short.

Important sectors have been extraordinarily left out or dealt with cursorily. Only pp 134-148 out of a hundred and eighty two pages deal with the sectoral environmental agenda.There are no sections on waste, air pollution, nuclear, agriculture, industry, chemicals, mitigating the local effects of climate change, national Migration (a crucial issue for Ireland) or Demographics; and there are negligible sections on water quality (less than one page), forestry (one page with no clear targets) etc.

5. The quality of the policies advocated is inadequate in theory and in detail [see also points 7, 8, 9 and 10 below]:

Structural problems with the submission
Much of the good material is lost through lack of emphasis and clarity.

The EENGO submission does not have a clear list of concrete recommendations.

It includes few recommended targets and dates.

For example, much of the treatment of climate change is discursive. A lot of the text on climate change is gratuitously-detailed descriptions of particular technical approaches. Another example is there are no targets even for improving the building regulations where there is much received wisdom.

There is an extraordinary dearth of citation of Irish academic works.

In general the EENGO submission makes too much use of esoteric and alienating jargon.

It is also badly edited and proofread (e.g. bottom p 18) and uses jarring terms like “ditto” [p129].

Problems with the submission’s ideas
The five “key elements” of a renewed NSDS set out on p 18 [point 5] of the submission (Risk Management and Resilience Building etc) are too unconventional for this mainstream environmental sector submission. Remedying some of the problems mentioned at 2 above should have infused this section.

The submission assumes that the goal of sustainability, and government policy, should be “Human Wellbeing”. Planetary not human wellbeing is the accepted goal for the environmental sector.

Commons, Trusts and eco-villages are over-emphasised for what is supposed to be the key, mainstream environmental submission. This leaves little room for treatment of the private sector and of the planning realities.

The section on Production and Consumption fails to make the critical point that we should establish measures of the ecological footprint of goods and services.

Even on climate change the authors suggest that “the government’s strategic priority we suggest, should not be to reduce its greenhouse emissions but to reduce the country’s use of all imported fuel whether fossil or not” [sic]. This is a crucial statement on the most important issue for environmentalists and the most important problem facing humans. For the EENGO submission to posit this strategy as central is highly controversial. George Monbiot for example suggests that the energy future may be in linking renewable electricity supplies with Atlantic countries contributing wind and wave power, Saharan countries contributing solar etc to a shared grid. Importation may be the future not a dead-end.

Under Social inclusion, Demography and Migration the EENGO submission comments, critically, “equality of opportunity is promised but equality of access to and enjoyment of the social and ecological commons is not”. Is it really, as implied, the concern of the environmental sector that equality of opportunity should be mitigated in this way (only)? It would be expected that the environmental sector would have concerns with the (liberal) notion of equality of opportunity and it certainly should be concerned with the treatment of private property and not just the treatment of the Commons. Key concepts are thrown around unconvincingly.

The built heritage is treated almost as if there were not a wealth of practical wisdom built up of long experience – despite what looks like an attempt to go into detail.

6. Too many naïve policies and factual errors
The submission has too many errors. I include a mere sample. For example is it really intended as a goal that we should halve the volume of road transport in 2012 compared to 2000 [p126]? It would be impossible. Ireland is not the most car-dependent EU member [p125]. The recommendation that subsidies should be withdrawn for “inter-regional” air travel should have said “intra-regional”. The programme for government does not envisage annual three per cent reductions in transport emissions [p125]. Is it really wise to contemplate that putting the electricity grid into a Trust should happen even if it leads to power cuts [p17]? Does the submission really need to assert on behalf of the broad environmental sector the possibility that the Company PLC is of itself “psychopathic” [p64]? Does the environmental sector agree that the government really needs to “scrap” as opposed to overhaul and redirect its National Development Plan [p38] which deals adequately amongst much else with issues like health and education? Is it really the case that “no government is going to be able to contemplate massive cuts in carbon dioxide unless the money creation system is changed”? [p82]

7. Unclear to what extent the EENGO submission is a critique of the EU NSDS and it does not make significant reference to the seminal 1997 Irish NSDS
These seminal documents (with their admittedly dated wisdoms) should at least be reference points if the intention is to be effective. There are desultory references to the EU NSDS around but they are notably incomplete.

8. Inadequately states the goal of society as “wellbeing” rather than quality of life or sustainability
It is shockingly wrong to answer the Department of the Environment’s key question to the environmental sector, “what should be the focus of a renewed sustainability strategy?” with “Human Wellbeing” [p18]. Sustainability recognizes the planet and other life not just humans and particularly addresses the long-term . It is universally recognized as the key concept here but the submission underplays it. The environment has an independent imperative and does not depend entirely on how it is enjoyed by humans.

The EENGO submission totally ignores work done by the ERSI, CSO, OECD, EU etc on quality of life and sustainability indicators, though it recognizes their existence. Quality of Life is a gratifyingly wide concept and most of its indicators have been ignored in this document which centralizes “health” as an indicator.

Health and wellbeing are not the key concepts for the environmental sector. The EU SDS includes the concept of wellbeing under Public Health (which it says comprises Health and Wellbeing). Wellbeing is taken by most commentators to embrace only issues like diet, contamination, disease. Quality of life is broader and less subjective and embraces environmental, social, economic and cultural objectives.

The section on “wellbeing” in the document is incomplete, over-emphasising indicators of health (US researched, at that), the land value tax and eco-villages. There is a section on social capital but there is no recommendation that the widest range of environmental indicators should be used to assess the success of society – along with the widest range of social, economic and cultural indicators. These indicators should apply to all development. The submission implies at one stage that some such indicators should apply to infrastructure only pp 78-9].

9. Skewed towards ownership and taxation not planning and the environment
The EENGO submission pays far too much attention to ownership (but only of the “Commons” which does not extend to buildings or infrastructure) reflecting the social concerns of the authors but not a mainstream environmental sectoral agenda. The land value tax that would apply to the site value, if it could be implemented, would tend to encourage development of the right sort of development, but unlike implementation of something like the Kenny Report (combined with cross-sectoral Agenda 21-style composition of sustainable plans) would not guarantee it. The EENGO’s proposed annual land tax does not guarantee local authorities the right to rezone and sell on land for suitable purposes like the current CPO regime combined with the Kenny Report would. In a country developing as fast as Ireland applying a land value tax instead of something like the Kenny Report would amount to a fatal missed opportunity to overhaul the fundaments of planning and development to start immediately serving the common good. It would be the wrong focus.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has already – following wide-ranging consultation – recommended implementation of a version of the Kenny report but the EENGO submission is ideologically opposed to this – a realistic corrective add-on to the existing statutory regime – as it does not facilitate the vision of Henry George, and the derivative notions of Commons and annual land tax.

There is also a strange emphasis on government rather than public performance [e.g. p 128 in the Objectives part of the Consumption and Production section].

10.Ingenuous vision of planning
Planning is perhaps the most important agent for sustainability (or unsustainability), particularly in a country growing as fast as Ireland. The EENGO submission includes no reference to the national spatial strategy which is the most important planning document widely accepted as an important (though flawed and flouted) salvo at sustainability. The EENGO submission implies that the future lies with eco-villages like Cloughjordan. Eco-development adjoining villages and towns is peremptorily dismissed as currently impossible in view of inflated land prices. The document has nothing, at all, to say about cities or suburbs. The submission has nothing to say to the ninety per cent of the population who would not consider living in an eco-village (and who do not live in social housing) about how to retrofit their housing.

There is a section [pp 55 and 56] which may (it is unclear) refer to towns as well as villages, providing for Framework Plans. It is naïve and utopian in assuming that a “team of consultants” whose relationship with the local authority is unclear can prioritise certain sites over others for development when the history of zoning in Ireland is so tainted and so much money would under the proposed system continue to be at stake. The report goes on [p56] in effect to recommend, in pursuit of the legitimate goal of ensuring Community-driven planning, use of CPO powers against recalcitrant “rural landowners” adjoining villages. But if this is recommended in the case of landowners’ recalcitrance adjoining rural villages the document does not make it clear why CPOs should not be used instead of land value taxes generally – where landowners are greedy rather than just recalcitrant and where the land is in a town, suburb or city.

The submission also envisages an unclear but very limited role for the private sector in future planning and development. The EENGO submission posits that developers of eco-villages should be not-for-profit. It is naïve to expect a speedy move from an avaricious building industry to a not-for-profit one, though that is not to say that might not ultimately be desirable. For the EENGO submission to suggest this peripheralises the environmental movement. The submission asserts that consultants are an exception to the rule against profits. If the vision is not for profit then surely no-one should earn a fee rather than a salary.

In any event the vision of eco-villages outlined is inadequately ambitious since it does not adequately address the issue of car-use and allows up to fully 40% of inhabitants to be holiday-homers or commuters.

The submission is on an important enough topic that it should be rewritten, recognizing the current document’s lack of mandate, lack of range, inadequate quality and inappropriate ideological biases.