Docklands plan to point way ahead for next phase of development


It is not too long ago since there was a dense cluster of tower cranes on the 12-acre extension of the IFSC. Now that most of their work is done, the development of Dublin's docklands seems to have entered a hiatus, pending the adoption of two major framework plans.

A draft planning scheme for the north docklands, from Spencer Dock to East Wall Road, with Sheriff Street as its northern boundary, is to be published before Christmas. It has been drawn up by the British planning consultants, Urban Initiatives, headed by Kelvin Campbell.

A month of public consultation will follow, after which the draft and any submissions on it will be considered by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority's (DDDA) broadly based council. It will then be up to the authority's executive board to adopt the planning scheme and submit it to the Minister for the Environment, Mr Dempsey.

The length of the consultation process - and, perhaps, even the context of the planning scheme itself - poses problems for the Spencer Dock Development Company because it cannot finalise a revised set of plans for the most pivotal site in the docklands until the broad framework is agreed.

For the past few months, architects Scott Tallon Walker (STW), who were involved in drafting an earlier planning scheme for the southern portion of the Spencer Dock site on behalf of the DDDA, have been working on the revised plan - this time for the Treasury Holdings-led consortium.

According to Richard Barrett, one of Treasury's directors, Scott Tallon Walker's revised proposals take full account of the 1997 Docklands Master Plan, the recently-published guidelines for high buildings in Dublin and the terms of An Bord Pleanala's decision to reject the original Kevin Roche plan.

Although relations between the developers and the DDDA have improved considerably, there are still differences over the height and bulk of buildings that might be permitted on the Spencer Dock site - and whether these outstanding issues can be resolved is still an open question.

From the developers viewpoint, it would obviously be preferable to proceed on the fast-track Section 25 route, with the DDDA certifying that their plans are in compliance with the new planning scheme, thereby avoiding the need to go through the hoops of another lengthy appeal.

On the last occasion, when it became clear that there was no chance of securing the DDDA's approval, the Spencer Dock consortium went through the normal planning process and ended up getting not even a fraction of what it wanted - apart from the National Conference Centre.

It is understood that the NCC, as designed by Kevin Roche, has been incorporated into the STW scheme - unfortunately in its original location, where it would present a cliff-face to the Royal Canal basin, rather than being relocated more appropriately in the middle of the Spencer Dock site.

Such an outcome could be facilitated if the DDDA was prepared to amend its 1997 Master Plan, under which the southwestern portion of the site is zoned either for a park or a public building; less ridgity on this point would offer the prospect of a more satisfactory urban design solution.

Following An Bord Pleanala's decision to refuse permission for everything other than the NCC, the developers lobbied the Government for additional funding for the £120 million project. But despite indications that more money might be made available, a firm offer is still awaited.

Peter Coyne, the DDDA's chief executive, said he was hopeful that as soon as the Section 25 planning scheme process is completed the developers would move ahead with a series of applications for the Spencer Dock site so that "we can get things rolling as soon as possible."

Once the overall planning framework for the 77-acre swathe of north docklands was laid down, Mr Coyne said he anticipated that there would be early applications from other developers for sites in the area, particularly along its long frontage to the River Liffey.

South of the river, in the Grand Canal Docks area, the laborious process of decontaminating the 20-acre former gasworks site is proceeding under the direction of specialist UK consultants, Parkman. It was supposed to be finished next month, but a late start will delay it until mid-summer.

The gasworks land is owned by the DDDA and will be parcelled up in lots for joint ventures with private sector developers or straightforward disposals to facilitate developments which comply with the Grand Canal Docks Master Plan, which was submitted to the Minister on August 31st.

The Department of the Environment has apparently completed analysis of the plan, which covers a total of 72 acres of land and Mr Coyne said he anticipated an early decision. "The sooner we get it, the sooner we can entertain Section 25 proposals from developers," he added.

In the meantime, the area is being marketed intensively as Grand Canal Harbour - a misnomer, geographically - and the DDDA has already done a deal with Novell, a US computer company, for corporate offices on the site on Sir John Rogerson's Quay once occupied by the gasometer.

Further down the same quay, at the confluence of the Liffey and the Grand Canal, Dunloe Ewart is still awaiting a decision from Dublin Corporation on its plans for a tapered glazed office tower, over 30 storeys high, as well as an apartment complex with retail uses.

The 12-acre extension to the IFSC is nearing completion. The various office buildings are already occupied, the 198 apartments under construction on the site are selling well, work has started on the National College of Ireland and the Clarion Hotel is due to open in February.

"There's plenty happening," says Peter Coyne.