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Dublin City Council shoots down Johnny Ronan's bid to increase heights of docklands developments

City planners have issued the double refusal in spite of heavy lobbying by Ronan.

Developer Johnny Ronan
Developer Johnny Ronan
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL has refused planning permission to Johnny Ronan to allow him increase the height of office blocks at Dublin’s Docklands that would have had the capacity for an additional 1,000 Salesforce staff there.

In a double blow to the developer’s Spencer Place Development Co Ltd, the city council has also refused planning permission for a companion application to increase to 13 storeys a residential and apart-hotel plan in the docklands.

City planners have issued the double refusal in spite of heavy lobbying by Ronan and Salesforce over recent months with Government Ministers and Dublin City Council to ease height restrictions on buildings in the docklands.

The decisions are not unexpected as Ronan had sought a deferral on the Council decisions in March.

This allowed Ronan to go to the High Court concerning his plans to increase the height of his already permitted office, residential and apart-hotel developments.

However, last Thursday, the High Court rejected Ronan’s argument that new departmental guidelines superseded the height caps in the Special Development Zone (SDZ) where the is being developed.

This cleared the way for the Council to refuse planning permission.

In their decisions, the city planners refused planning permission to the developments after concluding that the developments would present an unduly monolithic appearance and as a result be seriously injurious to the visual amenities of the area.

The planners concluded that both applications to increase the height of the already permitted buildings would be contrary to North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Special Development Zone (SDZ)  Planning Scheme and would not be consistent with the provisions of the planning scheme.

johnny-ronan-3-3-390x285 A mockup from the planners of what the tower will look like.

Construction work on the Salesforce Tower, which will accommodate 3,500 workers is continuing and the office block application was seeking to add two floors to the nine already permitted that would have resulted in an increase of 23% of total floor area to 72,559 sq m in the interconnected Salesforce tower that includes 60,259 sq m of office space.

The companion residential and apart-hotel plan was seeking to add 122 residential units and 27 apart-hotel rooms that would give Ronan’s firm planning permission to construct  471 residential units and a 127 bedroom apart-hotel.

There is no right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála on the decisions as they are in a SDZ area  - the appeals board has adopted a more liberal approach to building heights than the city council after recently giving the go-ahead to Ronan’s application for a 22-storey tower on the Dublin quays in spite of a decision by Dublin City Council to refuse.

A spokesman for Ronan’s Spencer Place Development Company said on Monday:

This refusal highlights the inflexibility of the current planning model and its inability to respond in a timely manner to new opportunities, changes in policy and overwhelming public support for taller buildings in the right locations. This is to the detriment of our capital city’s potential for growth.

He stated that “the decision to refuse permission is particularly disappointing given the suitability of the site to accommodate greater heights in accordance with the National Development Plan, National Planning Framework, Regional Spatial Economic Strategies, the Dublin Metropolitan Plan and the Urban Development and Building Height Guidelines.”

He said: “All of these promote the increase of heights and densities in existing urban locations well served by public transport facilities such as Spencer Dock. It is arguably the most suitable site in the country for taller buildings and greater densities.”

The spokesman also stated that Dublin City Council considers a review of the SDZ Planning Scheme necessary prior to any applications being granted planning permission in the SDZ area.

He said: “The implementation of such a review could take up to 18 months. This site is already under construction and the delay occasioned by this review will mean losing the opportunity to achieve greater heights, more residential units and more jobs.

“Dublin City Council itself has identified the Docklands area as a location suitable for buildings taller than 50 metres. Dublin City Council has confirmed a review of the SDZ heights will be published by the end of this week.”

Lobbying 

A spokesman for Ronan’s company has already stated that it intends to appeal last week’s High Court decision.

Ronan and Salesforce engaged in heavy lobbying in recent months to have the height restrictions eased. Ronan wrote to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and IDA Ireland concerning the height cap.

Ronan also wrote to the Council in January stating that the increase in floors from nine to 11 was “essential” to accommodate the needs of Salesforce in the ‘mega-building’.

He said: “Needless to say, this means extra quality JOBS, JOBS, JOBS for Ireland!.”

A Johnny Ronan firm also placed newspaper adverts calling for an increase in building height limits for Dublin.

Salesforce also engaged in a major lobbying effort to have the height restrictions eased writing to Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy and to Dublin City Council while the IDA also wrote to the city council on the matter.

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Gordon Deegan

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