The bigger the better no longer holds sway

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS: An Bord Pleanála’s unanimous decision to refuse planning permission for the replacement of Liberty Hall with a much taller and bulkier tower, coming after its politically shocking refusal for the Mater children’s hospital, marks the end of a high-rise mania in Dublin.

The main reason given in both cases was essentially the same – that the height and bulk of these proposals would have a negative effect on the city’s skyline, which (as the board noted) Dublin City Council’s own development plan “seeks to protect and enhance”.

Yet the council’s planners had endorsed the children’s hospital plan and decided to approve Siptu’s proposal, which the board has now overturned “notwithstanding the quality of the architectural design” by Gilroy McMahon, which had been working on the project for five years.

An Bord Pleanála also pointedly noted that it “did not necessarily concur” with the view of its planning inspector, Mary Crowley, that the case for the demolition of Liberty Hall had been justified by Siptu’s contention that the building was no longer functional for office use.

This makes it very difficult for the State’s largest union to come back again with a revised plan to replace a mid- 1960s building that many would regard as an icon for the emergence of modern Ireland. Siptu’s options are, therefore, limited; it may simply have to relocate.

It is understood that Liberty Hall is dealt with in detail in a major study of Dublin’s 20th-century architecture, due for completion next month. This, together with the planning board’s decision, will lead to demands for the building to be made a protected structure in the next city plan. There is a strong case for its restoration to the pristine condition it was in when completed in 1965.

If it is not functional as an office building it would make a fine apartment tower.