Criticism of plan for ‘overscaled’ development on Merchant’s Arch Lane

Permission approved to build hotel along lane connecting Temple Bar and River Liffey

An Board Pleanála  last week upheld Dublin City Council’s decision to grant permission for the development of a four-storey over-basement hotel along Merchant’s Arch Lane, the narrow walkway connecting Temple Bar Square to the Ha’penny Bridge. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

An Board Pleanála last week upheld Dublin City Council’s decision to grant permission for the development of a four-storey over-basement hotel along Merchant’s Arch Lane, the narrow walkway connecting Temple Bar Square to the Ha’penny Bridge. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A heritage watchdog has criticised An Bord Pleanála for approving a plan that would see the demolition of an old building containing a mix of independent shops on Merchant’s Arch Lane in Dublin.

The board last week upheld Dublin City Council’s decision to grant permission for the development of a four-storey over-basement hotel along the narrow walkway connecting Temple Bar Square to the Ha’penny Bridge.

Ian Lumley, head of advocacy at An Taisce, said the group was “highly critical” of the board for approving the development, which would see independent retailers, including a waffle café, a record shop, a vintage clothing store and a technology repair shop replaced by a single boutique hotel and restaurant unit.

However, the plans for numbers one to four Merchant’s Arch Lane would not involve the removal of the laneway’s arched structure.

In its submission to the board as part of the appeals process, An Taisce said it would “strongly favour” retaining the existing series of small shops which contribute to the “sense of place” around Merchant’s Arch.

Laissez faire

Mr Lumley said the permission was further evidence of the board’s recent “uncritical and laissez faire” approach to allowing large developments next to historic structures.

“Our issue with Merchant’s Arch is that the development is overscaled and inappropriate in character for the area,” he said.

Meanwhile, around 30,000 people had by yesterday evening supported a petition to “save Merchant’s Arch” from the redevelopment.

Green Party councillor Claire Byrne said “time and time again” An Bord Pleanála had ignored the concerns of citizens and the City Development Plan in favour of hotels.

“It’s like they won’t rest until we have a completely homogenised city centre just for tourists,” she said.

Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Conroy, who is an architectural heritage specialist, said there is “no consistency” in planning decisions with regard to proposed builds in close proximity to protected structures.

“Straight-forward housing is refused, but investment, build-to-rent and businesses and hotels are not… I cannot count the amount of hotels being built in Dublin,” she said.

An appeal against the council’s permission had been lodged by Temple Bar residents, including former Irish Times environment editor and local resident Frank McDonald.

Mr McDonald said he was “heartened” by the public’s response to the development, which he believes will “fundamentally change the whole sense and character” of the passageway.

Injure

An Bord Pleanála upheld the council’s decision despite a recommendation from its own planning inspector to refuse permission on the basis that it would “seriously injure the visual amenities of the area and be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

The inspector said that, by reason of height and scale on a narrow plot, the development would be “out of character” and “visually discordant” in the area.

The loss of the small independent traders would “damage the diversity and uniqueness” of the passageway, the inspector wrote.

However, the planning board said the proposed development would be an “appropriate and sensitive design response to a prominent site”, subject to conditions. It believed the development would “promote and facilitate” tourism in the area.

Despite the existing mix of small-scale retailers being consolidated into one unit, the development would “continue to contribute to the existing vibrancy and character of the Temple Bar area, and also to Merchant’s Arch Lane”, it said.

This is the third time that Tom Doone, the owner of the adjoining Merchant’s Arch pub, has sought to develop the site.