It looked like a fairly standard planning application for a change of use from shop to restaurant on the corner of Drury Street and Castle Market.
But when the decision came through, the prospective developers were very surprised to get a refusal.
Dublin City Council's planners noted that the building is located on a "key shopping street" and said its conversion into a restaurant "would be contrary to the aim to maintain and strengthen the retail character of the principle ( sic ) shopping streets".
The building, a protected structure, has been vacant for some time. It was was previously occupied by fashion designer Helen McAlinden and the Foxford Home Collection, and the owners – Belasa Weavers Ltd – had been seeking a new use for the premises.
It forms part of the South City Markets, a comprehensive redevelopment done in the late 19th century that included the main market buildings on South Great George’s Street, Fade Street and Drury Street and the rebuilding of Castle Market.
At the time permission was refused, in 2010, the premises had been in retail use for only five years. Previously it had been a wholesale clothiers that contributed nothing to the street – just like so many buildings occupied by the “rag trade” in South William Street.
Much of Castle Market is already occupied by restaurants with outdoor tables: La Maison, Jo’Burger Town (formerly the much-loved Bistro) and Gourmet Burger Kitchen – one of Graham Beere’s chain of restaurants – in what used to be the upmarket Cooke’s Café.
Category 2 shopping street
The planners noted that Drury Street is defined as a "Category 2 shopping street" in Variation 16 of the city plan under which restaurants "may only be permitted where such development would not result in a predominance of similar non-retail frontages".
Under the South City Retail Quarter Architectural Conservation Area, which includes Drury Street, proposed changes of use are “dealt with on their individual merits having regard to the local circumstances”.
Here again the aim is to “strengthen the retail character” of the area.
Yet the rejuvenation of South Great George’s Street has been restaurant-led. Twenty years ago the street was so dead that it was referred to as “Hades” by one prominent chartered surveyor. Even a ground-floor solicitors’ office had no problem getting approval.
Now South Great George's Street is alive again, thanks to foodie entrepreneurs such as Derek Ryan (Yamamori), Dylan McGrath (Rustic Stone), Temple Garner (San Lorenzo's) and John Farrell (777) – as well as the reopening 10 years ago of the Dunnes Stores supermarket.
Cheaply prettified Fade Street would be lost without L'Gueuleton, Jay Bourke and John Reynolds's Market Bar and McGrath's latest money-spinning vehicle, Fade Street Social, which has proved a huge success – partly driven by his celebrity status on MasterC hef Ireland .
Nearby South William Street, once nearly swallowed up by clothing wholesalers, is also very lively now – thanks to new restaurants, bars and cafés.
The same is true of Capel Street, where oriental restaurants have taken over in recent years from shops selling cheap furniture.
But the attitude of the planners is clear. "Restaurants are intended to be complimentary ( sic ) uses to the prime shopping use of these Category 2 streets", they say, adding – rather dogmatically – that such uses "should be located at basement and first-floor levels".
They point to “increased pressure for change of use from retail to food-orientated use” – a trend that reflects the parlous state of so many shops due to the recession. But they intend to hold the line, saying “non-retail units should not dominate key shopping streets”.
No record of appeal
There is no record of an appeal by Belasa Weavers against the city council's decision to refuse approval for a change of use from retail to restaurant for the corner building on Drury Street and Castle Market – so we don't know what An Bord Pleanála would have made of it.
When the council’s planners refused permission for the former Fitzer’s restaurant on Temple Bar Square to be turned into yet another McDonald’s burger joint, on the basis that there was already “an ample supply of restaurants in the area”, the appeals board overturned it.
Granting permission in May 2012, the board took into account the zoning of the area, which permits restaurant use in principle, and said the change of use from restaurant to burger joint (with ancillary takeway) would not “adversely affect” the building or the area.
An Bord Pleanála hedged its decision with one important condition – that the new McDonald’s outlet could not trade between midnight and 7.30am and that the permission would be reviewed after three years in the light of its impact on “the character and dignity of the area”.
It didn’t seem to matter that Temple Bar was meant to be different, perhaps even spared assault by the multiples.
But now, thanks to the planners, it has a Tesco Express in the former ESB showrooms on Fleet Street, a Costa Coffee outlet in place of Bruno's – and McDonald's.
The planners could hardly have been thinking about the “primacy of retail” when they approved plans by a firm of solicitors to set up shop in the former EBS headquarters on Westmoreland Street.
Clearly, a restaurant or café would have been infinitely preferable in this key location.