Controversy over plans to redevelop Henry St corner


AN BORD Pleanála is due to decide soon on controversial plans to replace five individual shop buildings on the corner of Henry Street and O’Connell Street, in Dublin city centre, with a single retail unit suitable for a chain store.

One of the principal arguments made by appellants against Dublin City Council’s decision to grant permission for the scheme is that it would result in the demolition or significant alteration of buildings that were present during the 1916 Rising.

The plan, submitted by Percy Nominees – a pension fund run by Allied Irish Investment Managers – would involve demolishing numbers 32 and 33 Henry Street and the partial demolition of 31 Henry Street, as well as 68 and 69 O’Connell Street Upper.

Two of the Henry Street buildings, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, would be replaced by a three-storey retail unit described by objectors as “bland” and “monolithic” while the O’Connell Street buildings would be stripped of their painted render.

“This proposal will entail squeezing out five smaller retailers which are currently trading and employing between 20 and 30 people directly, and also others in security, cleaning and local supplies,” said Colm Sorensen, managing director of Butlers Chocolates, one of the shops affected.

“The thought of demolishing 18th and 19th-century buildings that survived and witnessed the 1916 Rising simply because they have been slightly altered over the years is preposterous and completely misses the point of the preservation of heritage sites.

“It is accepted that it is the job of pension funds to maximise the value of their assets and it is the job of architects to serve their clients. It is hoped that it is the job of planners to recognise this and to protect this most historic architectural conservation area,” he said.

An Taisce, which has also appealed against the council’s decision, noted that the site is “one of the most prominent locations in the city centre, next door to the GPO and the Spire”, as well as being part of the O’Connell Street Architectural Conservation Area (ACA).

“By removing two reusable historic buildings of character and merit in order to create a large retail unit, the proposal would weaken and undermine the special architectural character of the area which the ACA sets out to protect,” according to Kevin Duff of An Taisce.

Manahan Planners, acting for Korkys and the Body Shop – located in GPO Buildings on Henry Street – said the scheme would “destroy the existing ‘local sense of place’ built up by largely local traders over many decades in favour of an ‘anywhere’ retail proposal”.

Planning consultants John Spain Associates argued on behalf of the applicants that Dublin City Council’s policy to withstand competition from out-of-town shopping centres is to facilitate the creation of larger units in the city centre for “higher-order retailing”.

Their submission included a report by real estate consultants Colliers International, supporting the development. But David Fitzsimons, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, said this report “promotes a retail planning template which has in fact failed in the UK”.

Mr Sorensen noted that the recent review of the state of UK high streets, compiled for the British government by retail expert Mary Portas, referred to “Clone Town Britain” where every street looked the same and the “unique DNA of our towns” was being lost.