Approval of £35m hotel censured for showing "no protection of our architectural heritage"

 

THE Dublin City Association of An Taisce has condemned a decision by An Bord Pleanala to approve plans for a Hilton hotel off College Green as "a complete subversion of the listing system".

Mr Michael Smith, speaking for the association, said it was "a very bad decision" which would be regretted by future generations of Dubliners, because it showed there was "no protection of our architectural heritage in the face of economic pressure".

But a spokesman for the developer, Treasury Holdings, described the appeal board's approval of the £35 million project as "one of the most important decisions ever made" because it would help to "rejuvenate the whole city centre", from Trinity College to O'Connell Street.

Although the developers were "disappointed" by the board's decision to reduce the size of the hotel from 173 to 167 bedrooms "in the interests of visual amenity and civic design", the spokesman said they could "live with it" and he confirmed that the project would now go ahead.

An Bord Pleanala decided yesterday to grant planning permission because the Hilton site between College Street and Fleet Street is located in an area where it is Dublin Corporation's policy to "consolidate and reinforce the established central business core".

It noted that the scheme would retain the street front facades of all the buildings on the site which are listed for preservation in the city plan, as well as the main banking hall of the former Provincial Bank headquarters on College Street, which was of "intrinsic architectural merit".

The board's decision makes no reference to the omission of some 30,000 square feet of office space - the entire first floor - which AIB, the current owner of the site, wishes to retain. The Irish Georgian Society argued that this could be converted into extra bedrooms.

However, prior to work starting, the architects - Henry J. Lyons and Partners - must submit revised plans omitting six top floor bedrooms and setting back the roof "in order to protect the architectural integrity and roofscape features of List I buildings within the site".

They must also prepare a detailed scheme to protect the main banking hall of No 5 College Street during proposed demolition and construction works, as well as revised drawings showing a "faithful reconstruction" of the roof of the red sandstone building at the corner of Westmoreland Street.

In addition, a schedule of all features, fixtures and fittings of architectural value, "compiled on a room by room basis by an expert in these matters", is to be submitted to Dublin Corporation's planners, together with proposals for their preservation or re use.

The 15 conditions laid down by the appeals board also specify that there must be an archaeological appraisal - and, if necessary, an excavation - of the site. The developers are being required to pay £200,000 to the corporation towards the provision of public services.

The corporation's chief planning officer, Mr Pat McDonnell, strongly recommended that the Hilton plan be refused. He was overruled by the City Council, however, which decided to approve the scheme subject to the visually obtrusive top floor being omitted.

The developer, along with An Taisce, appealed to An Bord Pleanala. It was argued on behalf of Treasury Holdings that the roof of the hotel would be only marginally higher than a proposed office development on the site, for which the board granted planning permission in 1993.