New master plan for Docklands is a remodelling on a human scale

A more realistic approach to developing Docklands sees balance between commercial and residential

Working on the docks: until very recently, planners believed it could take 10 years or more to deliver more residential property in Docklands, but now they think it could happen much quicker because of the current shortage of housing in Dublin. Working on the docks: until very recently, planners believed it could take 10 years or more to deliver more residential property in Docklands, but now they think it could happen much quicker because of the current shortage of housing in Dublin

Working on the docks: until very recently, planners believed it could take 10 years or more to deliver more residential property in Docklands, but now they think it could happen much quicker because of the current shortage of housing in Dublin. Working on the docks: until very recently, planners believed it could take 10 years or more to deliver more residential property in Docklands, but now they think it could happen much quicker because of the current shortage of housing in Dublin

 

Michael Noonan lost the run of himself recently when he suggested, in true cheerleader style, that Docklands “has the potential to be the Canary Wharf of Dublin” and rival other international locations such as Boston’s Seaport and Singapore’s Marina Bay.

All three examples are characterised by clusters of high-rise office buildings and some residential. In Marina Bay, building heights range from 40 to 75 storeys, while Canary Wharf’s centrepiece – One Canada Square – rises to 50 storeys, or 235 metres.

The Minister for Finance sounded so bullish about the prospects of doing this kind of stuff in Dublin that he might even be accused of recycling the “Manhattan on the Liffey” vision put forward by the Progressive Democrats in 2007, just before the crash.

Yet there is nothing in Dublin City Council’s new Docklands masterplan that suggests such a concentrated high-rise future. Only two towers are envisaged and each of these will have a maximum height of 22 “commercial storeys”, or about 80 to 90 metres.

The key document governing the development of the Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) is the master plan’s “Figure 35”, which lays down what is meant to happen in the 22-hectare (54-acre) area it covers on both sides of the river Liffey.

One of the high-rise buildings would be seen as a replacement for the U2 Tower that was never built at Britain Quay, while the other would be built on the site of Harry Crosbie’s abortive Watchtower in the Point Village.

Deputy city planning officer John O’Hara, who heads the Docklands master plan team, says the aim is to develop five “hubs”, or centres of activity, along the lines of Mayor Square and Grand Canal Square, both of which are anchored by major public facilities.

New hubs

In the North Lotts area, the new hubs would be at Spencer Dock and the Point Village. South of the river, the replacement for the U2 Tower would anchor another hub, while two more hubs would be clustered around Barrow Street and Grand Canal Square.

In each case, the predominant use would be commercial, with residential on its fringes, subject to achieving an overall 50-50 mix. With the housing market picking up again, it should be possible to develop at least 2,500 apartmens in the area.

New residents and office workers will need their amenities, so the master plan provides for a series of pocket parks, generally measuring 50 by 50 metres. In each case, developers will be expected to hand over the land needed for these parks to the city council.

One indication of the more realistic approach to developing Docklands is a requirement that the vacant site right behind the Convention Centre – once earmarked by Treasury Holdings for a 35-storey hotel – now support a building of no more than 13 storeys.

“We had to get the right balance between certainty and flexibility – that’s the key to success for the SDZ,” O’Hara says. “It gives certainty to developers and the surrounding communities about what can be built, while also having a degree of flexibility.”

For example, developers could get together and rejig plans for internal streets to break up the big blocks of land in Docklands – and these might even be curved, to offset the strictly rectilinear grid that is so characteristic of the area.

“Our job is to ensure that everyone has to chip in a bit, to make it an enjoyable place to be,” says Deirdre Scully on of the projects planners. “Clearly, developers are interested in building commercial, but in a phased way to see how it goes. Residential is also a good prospect.”

Housing shortage

Until very recently, the planners believed it could take 10 years or more to deliver more residential property in Docklands, but now, they think “it could happen much quicker” because of the current shortage of housing in Dublin and the corresponding recovery in values.

Naturally, the SDZ master plan emphasises the importance of providing at least a proportion (15-20 per cent) should be three-bed apartments suitable for families, even though demographic studies suggest that the biggest demand is for smaller two-bed units.

Meanwhile, IDA Ireland is said to be quite happy that the 350,000sq m of office-commercial space being planned will not only appeal to companies looking for big floorplates, but will also incude smaller units of 1,000sq m or so for start-up businesses.

Scully says the smaller units could be built on side streets (instead of insisting on possibly non-viable retail uses) or installed in protected structures that would provide the type of quirky space that appeals to start-ups, especially in the creative sector.

There is also a big focus on decontaminating sites, such as the former Hammond Lane scrap metal works, and the installation of underground services, including more ducting for fibre-optic telecoms and pipework for a potential district heating scheme.

Drainage and flood protection are priorities for the planning team, but it is being left to developers to decide whether to go for “green roofs” that would help to attenuate flooding. Future-finished ground-floor levels are also being raised slightly to four metres.

DDDA windown

Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) is currently being wound down, athough it will take legislation to abolish it before its functions can be absorbed by the city council; this is now expected to come before the Oireachtas by the end of the year. DDDA’s assets and even more substantial liabilities would then transfer to the council, giving it full control over the area.

The existing advisory council will be reconstituted as the Docklands Consultative Forum, involving councillors and community representatives.

In all probability, there will be a rebranding exercise, which should start with a renovation of the DDDA’s rather tired-looking offices in the old Isle of Man ferry terminal on Custom House Quay. Festivals and events will also continue to maintain a focus on Docklands.