Building Height Guidelines 2018 Consultation
Department of the Housing, Planning and Local Government
[by email to email@example.com]
Date: 24th September 2018
Re: Public Consultation on DRAFT Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities
Dear Sir or Madam,
The Irish Georgian Society is a membership organisation, which encourages and promotes the conservation of distinguished examples of architecture and the allied arts of all periods in Ireland. These aims are achieved through our education programmes, by supporting and undertaking conservation works, publishing original research, planning participation and fundraising. The Society has had a marked and widely acknowledged impact on the conservation of built heritage in the state and has wide experience of the problems associated with the restoration, repair and maintenance of the fabric of historic property.
The Society considers that the Draft Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities, in their current form, fail to address the clear objectives of the National Planning Framework for the conservation and management of our built heritage “which has intrinsic value in defining the character of urban and rural areas and adding to their attractiveness and sense of place.” Given that the European cities with the greatest population density are low rise cities and given that the existing historic built environment (e.g. Georgian Dublin) provides some of the highest residential densities in the country, a clear evidence basis for the need to drive “a general increase in building heights” must be articulated before any new policy for building heights is adopted.
Inconsistency of the Draft Guidelines with the National Planning Framework
The National Planning Framework (NPF) makes numerous references to the importance of built heritage in defining the character of our cities, towns and villages; in preserving our shared cultural identity; and for tourism, particularly in rural areas. Built heritage is placed at the core of the NPF and one of ten National Strategic Outcomes states that the Government “will conserve, manage and present our heritage for its intrinsic value and as a support to economic renewal and sustainable employment.”
Under Section 1.3: Shared Goals – Our National Strategic Outcomes, the NPF describes the intention behind National Strategic Outcome 7: Enhanced Amenities and Heritage as follows:
“This will ensure that our cities, towns and villages are attractive and can offer a good quality of life. It will require investment in well-designed public realm, which includes public spaces, parks and streets, as well as recreational infrastructure. It also includes amenities in rural areas, such as national and forest parks, activity-based tourism and trails such as greenways, blueways and peatways. This is linked to and must integrate with our built, cultural and natural heritage, which has intrinsic value in defining the character of urban and rural areas and adding to their attractiveness and sense of place.” [Emphasis added.]
Notwithstanding this, the Draft Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities make no meaningful reference to heritage or to the historic built environment. Failure to explicitly address the issue of building height in historic environments, in combination with pejorative reference to “traditional building heights”, would seem to imply that protection of Ireland’s historic built environment is a secondary matter and, indeed, an obstacle to the sustainable development. This is factually incorrect as historic built environments provide a model for high amenity and attractive, high density residential development with a strong sense of place. For example, Paul Keogh Architect's conference presentation to the Maximising the City's Potential - Creating Sustainable Communities conference on 22nd April 2008 identified the density of Georgian Dublin as 165 dwellings per hectare. This is more than three times the minimum density for brownfield sites within city or town centres (50 units per hectare) set out in the Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas.
The Society considers the failure to address the issue of building heights in historic areas is particularly troubling given that the objective of the Draft Guidelines and how the Guidelines are to be implemented is very unclear. Specifically, the Draft Guidelines do not clarify what is meant by “driving general increases in building heights”, an obligation imposed on Planning Authorities under Specific Planning Policy Requirement 2. The wording of this mandatory requirement raises a considerable number of questions, including:
- Is it the Department’s intention that building heights must be increased throughout urban areas irrespective of context or only at suitable locations with urban areas should be identified for increased height?
- Did a survey of densities correlated to building heights in urban areas identify that appropriate densities cannot be achieved in development conforming to “traditional building heights”? If so, when will this data should be made available to the public?
- Is the objective of the Draft Guidelines to ensure that new development achieves sustainable use of land by meeting a certain density? If so, this is not clear from the Consultation Draft, which appears to conflate the issues of density and height. As noted above, research carried out in Ireland and abroad (e.g. by the UK Urban Task Force) has shown that high densities can be achieved at relatively low building heights. However, the wording of SPPR 2 appears to suggest that new development must not only be high density, but also high in height. No evidence basis for this new requirement is provided.
National Policy Objective 13 of the National Planning Framework provides that “In urban areas, planning and related standards, including in particular building height and car parking will be based on performance criteria that seek to achieve well-designed high quality outcomes in order to achieve targeted growth. These standards will be subject to a range of tolerance that enables alternative solutions to be proposed to achieve stated outcomes, provided public safety is not compromised and the environment is suitably protected.” [Emphasis added]. As noted above, the historic built environment is clearly identified in the NPF as an element of the environment that will be protected. Given this, the Society respectfully submits that failure to comprehensively address how increased building height will be achieved in the historic built environment in a manner that does not undermine the character of our historic villages, towns and cities renders the Draft Guidelines inconsistent with the National Planning Framework.
Legal implications of SPPR 1 on heritage designations
The Society notes the contents of SPPR 1 of the Draft Guidelines, which states that “statutory plans … shall not provide for blanket numerical limitation on building heights”. The Society further notes that, under section 32 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, which has yet to be commenced, any provision of a statutory plan, which is inconsistent with a SPPR, will be deemed to have been deleted.
The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, sets out a process for the designation of Architectural Conservation Areas under the development plan “to preserve the character of a place, area, group of structures or townscape, taking account of building lines and heights” [Emphasis added.] Given this, the provisions of many ACAs limit the height of new development to existing building heights (e.g. this is particularly the case in historic built environments of uniform character like Georgian squares).
The Society supports the removal of arbitrary height standards (e.g. minimum or maximum heights) from local area plans and development plans. For example, the historic core of Dublin has a widely varied character, ranging from fine grain single storey worker’s cottages to large and tall buildings such as the former Jervis Street hospital). The appropriateness of any large or tall building in an urban location must primarily be assessed on the basis of the response of the proposed development to its context in terms of scale, bulk, height, massing and design by the planning authority.
However, the objective of an Architectural Conservation Area designation is the protection of a group of structures or townscape. Given this and having regard to the fact that height is often an integral element of the character of historic townscape, deletion of sections relating to height and preservation of existing building heights from provisions within a development plan relating to architectural conservation areas has the potential to undermine the purpose and efficacy of existing designations for heritage areas. Any guidelines on building height must clearly state that provisions contained therein will not undermine or alter the controls in place for areas designated as Architectural Conservation Areas or Areas of Special Planning Control under Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.
Inadequate Development Management Criteria will lead to negative impacts on heritage
The Society respectfully submits that the application of the Development Management Criteria outlined in the Draft Guidelines will not provide an adequate level of protection against significant negative impacts on architectural heritage and the historic built environment. Protection of architectural heritage and preservation of character of historic built environments must be identified explicitly as Development Management Criteria. Having regard to the interactions between visual impacts on the built environment and impacts on cultural heritage (e.g. as referenced in the 2014 EIA Directive), if the Draft Guidelines propose to list which “suitably qualified professionals” should prepare reports, it is important that conservation professionals be listed in this section as well.
It is considered that the Development Management Criteria give a misleading impression as to the capacity of historic centres to absorb high buildings, which is likely to give rise to uncertainty and delay for investors and developers. For example, the Guidelines state: “City centre development in several UK and EU cities have successfully managed to both consolidate development through increased building heights, working sensitively and imaginatively with existing sensitive architectural building contexts – e.g. central London through the London Plan.” The Society questions the basis for this assertion. The development of tall buildings in London has and continues to the be the subject of very considerable opposition, with a 2016 survey finding that 60% of Londoners supporting the imposition of restrictions on tall buildings. It is also notable that the cities with the highest population density in Europe (Paris and Athens) also impose stringent height restrictions on building heights with the historic core. Moreover, given that the ‘History City of Dublin’ is on the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage List, it is considered significant that UNESCO is sharply critical of the impact of tall buildings on the integrity and value of World Heritage Sites (e.g. issues arose in respect of the construction of the Torre Seville in Seville, Spain; the proposed construction of a 120 m skyscraper in Budapest, Hungary; proposals for a hotel at the Old Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland (subsequently refused permission); various plans for tall buildings in Paris, France, notwithstanding the location of these buildings outside the historic core). In Dublin, numerous applications for tall buildings in proximity to the Georgian core have been refused permission as a result of the likely negative impact on the historic built environment (e.g. proposals for tall buildings at Tara Street, Liberty Hall and the new Children’s Hospital of Ireland at the Mater Hospital). Any guidelines on building height must be realistic and implementable. It is, therefore, of critical importance that the constraints on building height (rather than density) in new development in or near historic centres are clearly articulated.
In conclusion, the Irish Georgian Society wishes to express its concern that heritage and the protection of the historic urban environment would not appear to have been considered in the preparation of the Draft Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines. Given the value of preservation of the historic environment in terms of sustainability, the economy and our cultural and social heritage, it is of critical importance, therefore, that the historic built environment is placed at the heart of an integrated vision for the delivery of sustainable communities and consolidation of urban areas in order to avoid uncertainty and delay for all stakeholders within the planning process.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any further assistance.
Irish Georgian Society
 Londoners back limit on skyscrapers as fears for capital’s skyline grow. The Guardian. 27th August 2016.