Council rejects Johnny Ronan plan for underground office

Developer’s subterranean garden plan would set ‘undesirable precedent’ in Dublin

Johnny Ronan: a neighbouring resident of Fitzwilliam Square fears his “house will be undermined by digging the basement” in line with rejected plan.  Photograph: Tony Gavin

Johnny Ronan: a neighbouring resident of Fitzwilliam Square fears his “house will be undermined by digging the basement” in line with rejected plan. Photograph: Tony Gavin


Property developer Johnny Ronan’s plans for an office extension under the back garden of a house he owns in Fitzwilliam Square, one of Dublin’s finest Georgian squares, have been rejected by Dublin City Council. He is to appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

Mr Ronan sought planning permission for an office extension running the length of the property’s garden and finishing under a mews fronting on to Pembroke Lane.

The council refused permission after ruling the basement extension proposal “would create an undesirable precedent for similar-type development”.

It said its policy was “to discourage any significant underground or basement development or excavations below ground level in conservation areas or properties”.

The local authority said the proposed basement was considered to be a significant contravention of the Dublin City Council development plan and represented an over-development of the site.

In its refusal, it said the plan would have an adverse impact on the setting of the protected structure and the proposal would be seriously injurious to the character and amenities of this sensitive location.

Protected structure

The council refused the plan after its conservation architect Mary McDonald described the protected structure at 65 Fitzwilliam Square as important and significant, and recommended refusal.

A spokesman for Mr Ronan’s Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE) confirmed the company will be appealing the decision to An Bord Pleanála.

He said: “We were not trying to go further underground with this application but seeking to only extend a basement already there.

“These developments are commonplace in cities such as London and Paris and we have to find a way of making these beautiful old Georgian buildings adaptable for use in the 21st century.”

The plan faced a number of objections, including one from local resident James O’Donnell who told the council he was worried that “my house will be undermined by digging the basement”.

An objection lodged on behalf of Kelley Smith and Aidan Walsh said the proposed development “presents a significant risk to the residential amenity and stability of neighbouring properties”.

In their objection, Frank Callanan and Richard Callanan pointed to a house in London which began to subside, pulling its neighbours’ houses down with it after a business high-flier began to excavate his property to make way for a subterranean play room for his children.

Georgian squares

The Callanans said the type of work proposed in the Ronan plan was “relatively novel in this city so it beholds us to look to the experience of other cities, in particular London, where they have some experience of this type of development”.

An objection lodged on behalf of Amaska Holdings ULC said the development of basement accommodation was a recent phenomenon “and if the current proposal is permitted, it will undoubtedly set an undesirable precedent for such development in the city, particularly within Georgian squares”.

An Taisce supported the residents’ position. In an objection, Kevin Duff of An Taisce’s Dublin City Association pointed out that the proposal involved the excavation of the rear garden for a substantial basement extension. The planned subterranean excavation had significant geological and structural impacts for adjacent properties and should be refused planning permission, he said.

Mr Duff said the plan was not an appropriate form of development for Dublin’s main Georgian areas on account of the imperative for minimal intervention in work to Georgian protected structures.

However, the consultants for Mr Ronan, John Spain and Associates, stated there would be no significant negative impact from the development on the Architectural Conservation Area.

Mr Spain said the works “will ensure the long-term future of the protected structure by keeping it in active use in a suitable form for potential occupiers”.