Conservation IGS appeals Eccles Street planning proposal

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Re: Proposed development of 7 to nine storey building at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Eccles Street, Dublin 7.

Dublin City Council ref. 3400/21

To whom it may concern,

The Irish Georgian Society wishes to appeal the decision by Dublin City Council to grant planning permission for the above development because of the impact the proposed building would have on Eccles Street, the architectural character of the immediate area, and on the protected terrace of Georgian houses that face the development site.

Eccles Street was laid out and developed as a residential area from the 1770s to the 1830s during which time primarily two-bay, four-storey over basement houses were built. The Mater Hospital was subsequently constructed on the north-western end of the street from the 1850s to the 1880s, largely to the designs of John Burke. The significant expansion of the hospital in the 20th century saw the demolition of a significant stretch of the northern side of the street leaving only eight of the original houses standing. These new works gave little consideration to the character and scale of the street with a large section dominated ever since by open plan car parking, currently the subject of this application.

Those surviving houses on the south side of the street are now included in the Record of Protected Structures and lie within an area zoned Z8 (to protect the existing architectural and civic design character etc.) It is regrettable that the design of the current proposal for a six-storey building on Eccles Street, rising to nine storeys behind, does not attempt to re-make this historic street as it certainly could do. Substantial new buildings introduced into Georgian streetscapes elsewhere in the city could have been exemplars, like the new ESB offices on Fitzwilliam Street where the façades have been very carefully crafted to address the context, scale and materials of its environment while rising in height to the rear and achieving considerable density in terms of its urban plot. Consideration might also have been given to the design of Dublin City Council’s own replacement of a terrace of re-constructed ‘Georgian’ tenement flats on York Street where scale, context and materials were very carefully considered even though the Georgian character of the street had largely been lost already.

The Society believes that there are good grounds for seeking a redesign on the Mater site which directly faces an area with zoning objective Z8 consisting of existing Georgian houses which are in themselves protected structures. The aim of this zoning, which primarily encompasses the city’s Georgian squares and streets, is to protect the architectural character/design and overall setting of these areas, and to maintain and enhance them as active streets. The objective being ‘to protect the existing architectural and civic design character, and to allow only for limited expansion consistent with the conservation objective’. The City Council’s Planner’s Report cites the Development Plan Policies CHC2 and CHC4 as relevant, these policies are specifically to protect the special interest and character of Dublin’s conservation areas and requiring new development within or affecting a conservation area to contribute positively to its character and distinctiveness and take opportunities to protect and enhance the character and appearance of the area and its setting, where possible. Development in conservation areas should not harm buildings, spaces, original street patterns or other features which contribute positively to the special interest of the conservation area. The special interest of protected structures is to be protected and that the design, form, scale, height, proportions, siting and materials of new development should relate to and complement their special character.

In terms of design, the Planner’s Report cites Development Plan section 16.2.1 as relevant, encouraging new imaginative contemporary architecture that respects Dublin’s heritage and local distinctiveness and enriches its city environment. Through design, use of materials and finishes, new development should make a positive contribution to the townscape and urban realm, and to its environmental performance. In particular, development should respond creatively to and respect and enhance its context, and have regard to the character of adjacent buildings, the spaces around and between them and the character and appearance of the local area, the character, scale and pattern of historic streets, squares and lanes, together with existing materials, detailing, building lines, scale, orientation, height and massing and plot width and the form and character. The planning authority seeks to ensure that the design of new development respects and enhances the existing character and context, including streets, buildings and spaces, scale and materials and other elements that contribute positively to the cityscape and urban realm, the settings of protected structures, areas of special interest and important views and that such design incorporates high quality detail, materials and craftsmanship.

In terms of height the Planner’s Report cites Development Plan policy 16.7.2 which permits a maximum height of 28m for commercial, and presumably infrastructural, development in inner city areas not specifically designated for additional height. This would put the height of the proposed development above the limit but this factor has been mitigated in the Planner’s assessment by the 2018 Government Department guidelines which suggest that a performance driven approach be used in relation to determining building heights, with no maximum height standard.

So despite all these very particular and specific Development Plan policies and objectives, in reaching a conclusion on the proposal the City Council has chosen to largely ignore them and believes that the current proposal, with the future development of the remaining car park site, does integrate successfully with the surrounding area, including the remaining Georgian streetscape on Eccles Street, albeit with some minor concerns about the proposed elevational treatment that it feels can be agreed by conditions.

The Irish Georgian Society respectfully disagrees with this conclusion and believes that, in the case of the current proposal for the Mater Hospital site, an opportunity has been missed to design a building that could have made re-dress for the eyesore of blight that exists on Eccles Street and created a new building that would remake the street in terms of its architectural quality rather than dominate and diminish it further with an overbearing and insensitive building such as that proposed.

As such, the Irish Georgian Society recommends that An Bord Pleanala re-consider the granting of planning permission for this proposal in order to seek a better design that would more appropriately address the existing character of Eccles Street as schemes elsewhere in the city have managed to achieve.