The publication of the Mahon report has seen renewed calls for investigations into the planning matters of local authorities by An Taisce and others. In 2009 An Taisce called for the investigation of Dublin City Council’s planning record and subsequently it became one of seven local authorities under investigation by former minister for the environment John Gormley, this initiative being later reduced to an in-house investigated by his successor, Phil Hogan, which is a matter of some current political concern.

In the case of Dublin City Council, the issue at play was the extraordinary number of its major planning decisions subsequently overturned or substantially changed on appeal. Its appalling planning record was the subject of a dossier complaint by An Taisce in 2009, detailing 23 cases where its decisions clearly conflicted with the City Development Plan and/or Architectural Heritage Guidelines.

Download Dossier complaint re Dublin City Council planning decisions - An Taisce 2009.pdf

The economic boom in Dublin was an unprecedented period. With reckless bank lending came an onslaught of over-scaled and over-dense development proposals for over-valued sites in Dublin city centre. Through the exercise of its prescribed body role, An Taisce was afforded a unique insight on the whole process.

The record shows that, instead of carefully guiding proposals to ensure proper planning and sustainable development, Dublin City Council systemically disregarded its own Development Plan and other guidelines by approving the majority of development in this period, with An Bord Pleanála acting as a sort of safety valve to curtail and overturn its worst excesses.

It was vitally important that there was a body such as An Taisce to monitor what was going on during this period and send plans to appeal, if necessary, to An Bord Pleanála, who are the final decision makers in planning.

A great defining characteristic of inner-city Dublin is its historic or “human” scale – street after street with a consistent four- to five-storey building scale, occasionally punctuated by larger public buildings and churches - an enviable characteristic for any old city to maintain and worth jealously guarding.

Dublin’s north and south Georgian cores are an internationally significant historic urban area, and led in 2009 to Dublin’s submission for consideration to the international heritage body UNESCO.

For these reasons, the scale and character of the historic city is afforded significant protection through the designations of Conservation Areas, Protected Structures, archaeological zones and building height restriction.

But time and time again during the boom, Dublin City Council accommodated and even encouraged development proposals grossly out of proportion to their surroundings and in breach of the Development Plan, including several high-rise buildings within the historic city core.

As part of a major planned redevelopment of Arnotts department store, Henry Street (in 2006), it permitted a sixteen-storey tower at the corner of Middle Abbey Street and Upper Liffey Street (reduced to a six/seven-storey scale on appeal) in breach of the high buildings restriction for the city centre.

Its approval of the ‘park in the sky’ for the former Carlton Cinema site on Upper O’Connell Street in 2008 was also reversed by An Bord Pleanála, who cited the policy for the Architectural Conservation Area that new development should respect the established scale, as well as changing numerous other features of the scheme for this key site incorporating the 1916 National Monument at Moore Street.

Also overturned on appeal was the permission given by the City Council for an eleven-storey tower on the site of the former Motor Taxation Office on Chancery Street, soaring above the great drum and dome of the Four Courts, as well as many other schemes in locations like Smithfield, Infirmary Road, Parkgate Street, Bridgefoot Street, the Digital Hub, Fleet Street, Harcourt Terrace`and Hatch Street Lower.

In Dublin 4, City Council approvals for high-profile redevelopments of the former Jury's Hotel and Veterinary College sites, which had changed hands for record sums of money, were substantially amended or refused by An Bord Plenála in order to comply with the provisions of the City Development Plan.

The intervention of An Taisce in protecting the scale and harmony of the city in this period was vital and especially if Dublin is to join the select company of Venice, Rome, Prague, Vienna and, nearer to it, its two great sister Georgian cities, Bath and Edinburgh, as a World Heritage Site.

An Taisce Ends

Download Dossier complaint re Dublin City Council planning decisions - An Taisce 2009.pdf

For further commentary/clarification please contact:

Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland 087 2411995

Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland, 01 7077064 or 01 873 4964