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Factfind: What is being proposed at Dublin's Merchant's Arch?

The proposed development has been met with alarm in some quarters.

file-photo-the-highly-controversial-approval-by-an-bord-pleanala-for-the-development-of-a-four-story-hotel-on-dublins-merchants-arch-has-drawn-the-criticism-of-an-taisce-as-well-as-a-petition-oppos Merchant's Arch - The proposed development would replace the retail units to the right. Source: Sasko Lazarov

MORE THAN 20,000 people have signed an online petition objecting to An Bord Pleanála’s approval for a new hotel at the iconic Merchant’s Arch in Temple Bar. 

The development will involve the demolition of a number of retail units in the laneway at the Temple Bar end and the construction of a boutique hotel and restaurant. 

The proposal has been met with alarm in some quarters.

Despite an appeal taken by former Irish Times environment editor Frank McDonald and Temple Bar residents, the planning board upheld Dublin City Council’s earlier decision to grant permission.

The Board’s own inspector in their report recommended that permission be refused. 

Over the last few days people have taken to social media to express their concerns about the impact the development will have on Merchant’s Arch. 

One person claimed on Twitter that the Council and the Board “have decided to demolish one of the most iconic arches in Dublin”.

Comedian Dara O’Brian said: “I can’t believe there’s a proposal being seriously considered to replace Dublin’s Merchant’s Arch with (yet another hotel).”

So what’s in the plan?

What is actually being proposed at Merchant’s Arch, and how will the development materially alter the area?

Merchant’s Arch does not just refer to the physical archway leading from the quays but also refers to the laneway itself. 

The site in question is located on the far end of the laneway. Tom Doone, who owns the Merchant’s Arch pub, was granted permission for the development there by the Council earlier this year. 

pjimage Under the plans the new hotel would replace this building (r). Merchant's Arch refers to both the archway itself and the laneway, as shown in the map above. Source: Google

The development at 1-4 Merchant’s Arch will see the demolition of the existing two-storey-over-basement building, which is currently used by a number of retail outlets.

These outlets are located on the left hand side of the laneway if you are walking through the arch from the Liffey into Temple Bar. 

It will be replaced with a three-storey over ground floor and basement building. A restaurant is planned for the ground floor and basement, while the hotel will occupy the upper floors.

Screenshot 2021-10-06 13.15.06 - Display 2 View of the proposed hotel from Temple Bar leading towards Merchant's Arch. Source: Manahan Planner

According to the plans – which can be viewed here – the ground floor elevation to the laneway will contain the entrance to the hotel and restaurant and will include display cases for art.

Public access through the archway will continue.

The archway forms part of the original Merchant’s Hall, which fronts onto Wellington Quay, and was originally a guild hall. It dates back to 1821 and is where the Merchant’s Arch pub is now located.

The laneway, which also bears the name Merchant’s Arch, is a popular pedestrian route linking the quays and Temple Bar. 

Screenshot 2021-10-06 13.15.21 - Display 2 View of the new hotel in the laneway Source: Manahan Planners

It is important to note that while the development will undoubtedly alter the appearance of the iconic thoroughfare, there is no proposal to “demolish” the archway itself. 

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When speaking about Merchant’s Arch, a person may be referring to the physical archway or the laneway/area itself, but it is an important distinction in this instance. 

The archway forming part of the old Merchant’s Hall building is listed on the Council’s Record of Protected Structures. 

The broader issue relates to how the development will materially impact the area and if this type of development is appropriate considering the narrowness of the laneway and what some campaigners argue is a proliferation of hotels in Dublin City. 

In their report, An Bord Pleanála’s own inspector said: “It is considered that the proposed development, by reason of its height on a narrow plot and relative to surrounding buildings, scale, massing and bulk at this prominent site adjoining the narrow and busy Merchant’s Arch Laneway, an important pedestrian route from Henry Street to the north of the River Liffey via the Ha’penny Bridge to Dame Street to the south, would constitute a development which would be out of character with the pattern of development in the vicinity and would represent a visually discordant feature within the Temple Bar Conservation Area.

They continued:

The proposed development would, therefore, seriously injure the visual amenities of the area and be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

However, the Board ultimately decided to give the development the green light and ruled that the proposed development “would not seriously injure the character” of the area and that it would advance the objectives of seeking to promote and facilitate tourism “including the necessary significant increase in hotels, cafés and restaurants”. 

An Bord Pleanála has in the past gone against its own inspectors’ reports. An inspector’s report is ultimately an input into the final planning decision – in the case of Merchant’s Arch the development was approved by two of the Board’s members after they considered the inspector’s report. 

Heritage watchdog An Taisce has since branded the development “overscaled and inappropriate in character for the area.”

In summary, while the proposed development would undoubtedly alter the appearance of Merchant’s Arch (the laneway) there are no plans to “demolish” the archway itself.

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