Docklands body attacks development

 

Much of what was said in the closing submissions to An Bord Pleanala's marathon inquiry into the massive development scheme proposed for Spencer Dock was predictable, even repetitious. Not so the final remarks delivered on behalf of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Having started more than three weeks ago on a cautiously critical note, the DDDA - which holds the whip hand on planning in much of the Docklands area - decided to come out with all guns blazing in an apparently calculated assault on the plans put forward by the Spencer Dock development consortium.

Mr Declan McGrath, representing the DDDA, told An Bord Pleanala inspectors that if planning permission was granted for the scheme it would "irrevocably and irredeemably prejudice the ability of the authority to achieve its policies and objectives in relation to the docklands area as a whole".

Though the DDDA had "reservations" about Dublin Corporation's decision to permit a total floor area of 4.6 million sq ft on the site, he said it had now "revisited its view" in light of an "admission" by Mr Michael Lowe, the corporation's architectural consultant, that this was intended to "give more value to the developer".

Mr McGrath reiterated the authority's view that the quantum of development permitted at Spencer Dock "should be assessed purely by reference to planning and not economic considerations" and said it would be better if An Bord Pleanala, if it decided to grant planning permission, should omit "any quantitative figure".

Since the essence of the case made on behalf of the development consortium, led by Treasury Holdings, is that a planning permission based on anything less than the six million sq ft it is seeking would be "unworkable", the DDDA's view - should it prevail - may sound the death knell for the scheme as proposed.

Earlier, Mr Michael Smith, national chairman of An Taisce, did not mince his words when he branded the scheme a "premature and frivolous attempt to bring Dublin into an unplanned but allegedly exciting `brave new world"', which would "destroy the essence of much that is good about the city" and should be rejected "out of hand".

Mr Smith ridiculed the "three wise men" brought in by the developers to support the scheme - the architecture critic, Mr Martin Pawley, and two prominent Dublin architects, Mr Sam Stephenson and Mr Brian Hogan - saying their views on the suitability of "nowhere architecture" had shown "these people are truly a vision of the past".

"As regards general Government policy, we have heard from An Taoiseach about the monstrosity of this scheme.

"The Minister for the Environment has not demurred from this sentiment. No public figure has supported it. Nobody seems to believe that it conforms with Government policy," Mr Smith declared.

An Taisce's view was echoed by the Irish Georgian Society and other objectors.

Ms Mary Bryan, conservation officer of the IGS, said it would welcome a scheme for Dublin designed by Ireland's most renowned emigre architect, but what had been produced was "a Kevin Roche scheme for anywhere and nowhere".

She referred tellingly to plans by the Office of Public Works to remake Hawkins House, one of the most dismal Dublin buildings from the 1960s.

Yet when it had been proposed for the site of the Theatre Royal, it was sold at the time as a "must have" project for Dublin, designed by an eminent British architect in the "new international style".

Calling on the appeals board to refuse planning permission for the Spencer Dock project, Ms Bryan said there was a need to "go back to square one" and get such fundamental things as rail links, roads and bridges sorted out before designing a scheme for this pivotal site, in line with the DDDA's and Dublin Corporation's framework plans.

The same point was stressed by Mr Michael McDonnell BL, legal adviser to Mr Dermot Desmond. He said the issues raised during the inquiry were "fundamental" to the future direction of Dublin - whether it developed as a historic European capital or opted for a North American model, as Mr Roche proposed.

The correct course, he argued, was to prepare an area action plan for the 51-acre Spencer Dock site, most of which is in public ownership through CIE.

What had been proposed by the developers was "grossly excessive and out of scale" and should not be permitted in the absence of clarity about such fundamental issues as the cross-river rail link.

The residents also had their say, even though their spokesman, Mr David Healy, complained about the "uneven playing pitch", noting that neither Mr Roche nor any of the "three wise men" supporting his scheme was prepared to discuss issues revolving around the overshadowing of houses in the vicinity of Spencer Dock.

But Mr Tom Phillips, planning consultant for the developers, insisted the proposed development was acceptable in terms of architecture, urban design, traffic safety and convenience and that it would not seriously injure the amenities of the area.

He also thanked the inspectors for their even-handed conduct of the hearing.

An Bord Pleanala has indicated it will give its decision on the appeal by July 17th, a long deadline deliberately set so that it could take into account the findings of Dublin Corporation's commissioned study of building height policy in the city, expected in June - and, in particular, whether it envisages a high-rise future for Spencer Dock.