Spencer Dock given Green Light by Dublin City Council – by Ciarán Cuffe, published in the Irish Independent, 9th August 1999
Dublin Corporation’s decision yesterday to grant permission for the largest planning application in the history of the State represents an unsatisfactory compromise between the Developer’s proposals for 6 million square feet of development and the call by the local community for affordable housing, local jobs and development at a human scale. Giving the green light to the National Conference Centre is to be welcomed, but this building is only part of a massive development that will eventually cover a 52 acre site in Dublin’s Docklands. In the drawings submitted, the proposal looks more like Detroit of the 1960’s than Dublin of the 1990’s.
Sean Carey, Dublin Corporation’s Assistant City Manager in charge of Planning decided to scale down the proposal by 25% from 6 to 4.6 million square feet in his decision. While this is a good thing, the surrounding residential communities will still have cause for concern. The Permission will permit high rise blocks 180 feet high. These will overshadow and overlook the surrounding houses. Dublin Corporation has written thirty two pages of conditions into the Planning Decision to try and ensure a satisfactory form of development. The City Council at its last monthly meeting requested the City Manager to issue a split-decision to grant permission for the National Conference Centre and to refuse permission for the rest of the Development.
The Developer’s proposals for 7,000 car parking spaces has been pared down to 2000 spaces, which is to be applauded. Instead it proposes a combination of light rail, commuter rail and bus an cycling facilities to serve what is in effect a new town in the centre of Dublin. The Developers will have to build a new bridge linked to Macken Street across the river, but unless traffic management measures are put in place, it may funnel more cars into existing residential areas. The Developers should be levied to ensure that access to the site will be principally by public transport and to ensure that traffic chaos is averted. The developers have to produce a ‘Mobility Management Strategy’ and it is crucial that this incorporates bus and rail links to the scheme.
The planners have imposed planning conditions that may improve the urban design quality of the scheme. They have sought a grid-like pattern of streets and squares, and if this is done successfully, it could mitigate its massive scale. Certainly the developer’s proposals for a three storey podium of car parking at street level would have been disastrous. This is now been dropped. However the fear is still there that the sheer bulk of the development will create windswept tower blocks instead of well-designed open spaces.
This crucial Docklands site could have been model of sustainable inner city living and working in the twenty-first century. Around the world cities like Boston and Barcelona are rediscovering their waterfronts and planning imaginative multi-use developments in consultation with local people. This proposal for a massive superblock development is an over-scaled imposition on the surrounding Docklands Community. The Developers should be sent back to the drawing board to provide a model of good urban design with affordable housing within the development, and local employment initiatives that cater for local needs as well as those coming from abroad to attend Conferences in boom town Dublin.
First published in the Irish Independent, 9th August 1999, page updated 9th January 2018