Future of Ballsbridge
Ballsbridge has long been a target in the sights of property developers. Its leafy roads have always been prized for their relatively high values since they were first laid out by the Pembroke Estate and others in the 19th century. The area first came under attack in the 1960s for office blocks and hotels, and it was in the wake of this wave - which continued until the 1980s - that Dublin's planners adopted a more restrictive approach to preserve as much as possible of Ballsbridge and redirect development to areas that really needed urban renewal, notably the inner city. This policy benefited places that had been scarred by dereliction and redundancy.
Over the past two years, however, the planners changed tack and appeared to indicate that higher density - including high-rise - mixed-use schemes would be permitted right in the heart of Ballsbridge. Certainly, some developers such as Seán Dunne were under the impression that they would get some comfort from the planners after paying spectacular sums of money for property in the area - in Mr Dunne's case, up to €60 million per acre for the Jurys and Berkeley Court hotel sites. These transactions put pressure on Dublin City Council to produce a local area plan (LAP) for Ballsbridge, to provide a statutory framework for regulating the scale and type of development that would be permitted in the area. Drawn up by consultants Urban Initiatives, the LAP did exactly what it was meant to do - open up opportunities for higher density development on certain sites.
Local residents were aghast at what was proposed, claiming that it would destroy the essential qualities of Ballsbridge, and they put pressure on councillors to reject the plan. Although Dublin city manager John Tierney and senior officials backed its adoption, the city council threw it out last Monday by an overwhelming majority. It will be at least a year before the matter is revisited, which means that the investment decisions made by Mr Dunne and others such as Bernard McNamara, Ray Grehan, David Courtney and Gerry O'Reilly will take a long time to bear fruit.
And at a time of rising interest rates, the cost of holding expensively-purchased sites is bound to become more painful. But it is second nature to property developers to gamble on a prospect, and that is what they have done in Ballsbridge. And it is not a function of proper planning and sustainable development to change the rules to favour higher density mixed-use schemes on particular sites, however desirable they might be in principle, merely because high prices have been paid for them.