City council seeks to increase building heights in docklands

Residential tower of 25 storeys could create ‘gateway’ to city, says Dublin City Council

Dublin City Council is seeking to increase building heights in the north Dublin Docklands, including a residential tower of up to 25 storeys which will mirror Capital Docks on the southside and create a “gateway” to the city at the mouth of the Liffey.

The revised height limits are in the same area of the city where the council recently opposed an effort by developer Johnny Ronan to add extra floors onto his Salesforce Tower development.

Details of the increased building heights are contained in a revised development plan for the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock district, which has been seen by The Irish Times. The city council has submitted the plan for approval to An Bord Pleanála.

If the plan is approved, heights will be increased in several of the zones which the area is subdivided into, termed “city blocks”. The council has sought approval for revised heights in seven of the 20 city blocks which compose the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ).

Overall, heights will be increased by up to six storeys in some areas, where buildings of 12-15 storeys will be permitted as “local landmarks”. The residential tower on the northside, which will be developed in city block nine, will be the largest permitted of the landmark buildings at up to 25 storeys.

The increased height has been welcomed by Dublin Chamber of Commerce chief executive Mary Rose Burke, who said businesses and developers had been seeking clarity around what is and isn't permissible in terms of building heights. "It makes absolute sense that we'd look to free up the height caps in the north docklands. This is one of the last tracts of really good development land that we have in the city centre," she said.

The new heights would “increase the number of people we can get living close to the core of the city and also improve the business case for investment in new and improved transport infrastructure, including projects like Dart Underground”, she said.

However, Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), which saw its application for extra storeys on the Salesforce Tower rejected last month, criticised the new plans. It said they were not in keeping with a radical new approach to building height limits initiated by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy last year.

‘Arbitrary’ heights

Mr Murphy announced the removal of “arbitrary” building heights in December last year, which RGRE had used to argue for the extra storeys at Salesforce Tower. However, the company said the new SDZ rules, if approved, would constrain building heights in the docklands in a way not envisaged by the ministerial order, albeit at greater heights than currently permitted under the development plans.

Tom Phillips, managing partner of Tom Phillips & Associates planners, the firm which worked on the RGRE plan, said the majority of submissions on the reformed docklands SDZ "supported more ambition on height, but the amendment makes few concessions and therefore it represents business-as-usual and doesn't meet the Minister's direction".

“In launching the ministerial guidelines on height in December 2018, the Minister cautioned against a ‘business as usual’ approach to height. The issue of height needs a clean slate approach, not keyhole surgery.”

He said it was “ironic” that the tallest inhabitable structure in Ireland would be the air traffic control tower in Dublin airport, “and not a sustainable cluster of tall buildings in the docklands, next door to a major transportation hub”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times