Dublin needs new buildings to serve its citizens

We cannot preserve the old everywhere if we are to build a city for more people

A planning application proposing the demolition of Quinn’s Pub in Drumcondra, Dublin and the development of 50 apartments was rejected. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

A planning application proposing the demolition of Quinn’s Pub in Drumcondra, Dublin and the development of 50 apartments was rejected. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Dublin City Council refused planning permission two weeks ago for the development of 50 apartments in Drumcondra. The application was made by Discipulo Developments and the project is being promoted by my company, RQTwo. The application proposed the demolition of Quinn’s Pub and this seems to have struck a nerve prompting the latest debate about the future of Dublin, and the part its pubs will play in that future.

What was proposed in the planning application was modest in the context of Dublin but it serves to highlight some of the challenges that we face as the city grows. How can the traditional areas of Dublin expand to allow for new homes? How much of the city do we seek to preserve? How do we prevent so-called “nimbyism” from dominating the debate? And how do we make space for more people? This project in Drumcondra sits squarely within the crosshairs on all of these issues.

Simon Kelly is chief executive officer of RQTwo

While brownfield development in the docklands has dominated the narrative for much of the last 20 years, the reality is that it’s in the real heart of the city where we need to imagine the new Dublin.

The docklands have proven to be relatively easy-going in terms of the decision-making process for planners and developers, and I include myself and my father, Paddy Kelly, in that.

The area was filled with old warehouses many of which had fallen into dereliction, making them of little or no use to the economy, while the new offices and apartments that came to replace them represented the new technology-focused Ireland. The Dublin docklands is almost a new city in itself, and this has exposed a problem which we now need to face.

Old Dublin, for want of a better term, is still rife with dereliction and decay. In many ways, it is still the Dublin depicted in the movie The Commitments in 1991. Which is incredible when you consider that in the years since then, we experienced the greatest economic boom in our history. Vast areas of the city have been left behind. Why?

Dublin is full of historic, cultured and unique places in which to live, but we need to continue to invest in them and in the physical fabric of their buildings

Dereliction in Dublin seems to be accepted by both private and public bodies as the norm. Many of the most high-profile locations that lie derelict include the sites of shuttered pubs. The pub on every corner that we were all once familiar with is now a part of a distant past.

If we are to solve this problem, we must accept the need for new development.

A living, breathing city will always need new buildings. We cannot shy away from this fact. We cannot preserve the old everywhere if we are to build a city for more people.

North inner city

Dublin needs new buildings to serve its citizens and not all of them can come in the form of glass towers in the docklands. The north inner city offers an amazing opportunity for new developments that can enhance existing communities.

Developers talk about “placemaking” on their large schemes. This isn’t needed with a project like the one we hope to have in Drumcondra, which is an amazing location already. Dublin is full of historic, cultured and unique places in which to live, but we need to continue to invest in them and in the physical fabric of their buildings.

More people will be living in Dublin in the future, and they will want to live in locations like Drumcondra. Jane Jacobs, the urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building, rightly argued that a city needs citizens to make its streets safe, but these citizens need new homes to live in. You cannot watch the streets when there are no buildings to watch from.

We did everything on this project to design what we believe is a great scheme

The state of dereliction in Dublin is a reflection of our overly bureaucratic planning system. The cost and complexity of the planning process makes it inaccessible for most property owners, while the risks involved in a planning refusal discourages many developers from getting involved. Decisions like the one we received on the Quinn’s site are holding back progress.

I love Dublin, and it’s the projects in old Dublin that I am most interested in. The patchwork infill of the city is an exciting prospect. That’s why I am so passionate about Drumcondra.

I’m disappointed by Dublin City Council’s decision. We did everything on this project to design what we believe is a great scheme. We listened to the council’s planners at the pre-planning stage, and they were very supportive of our design. The refusal of planning permission is difficult to understand.

We proposed to build 50 apartments in Drumcondra. It would have been a home for more than 75 people. Can we afford to let this opportunity go to preserve a pub that’s in decline, and a city that continues to be scarred by dereliction?