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Johnny Ronan fails to get planning permission for his 40-plus storey tower in Dublin's docklands

The 1,005 unit apartment scheme was refused planning permission by An Bord Pleanala.

Artist impression of the 40-plus storey building
Artist impression of the 40-plus storey building
Image: Ronan Group

Updated May 21st 2021, 7:29 PM

AN BORD PLEANALA has refused Johnny Ronan planning permission for his planned 40-plus storey tower scheme for Dublin’s docklands.

The appeals board has refused planning permission for Ronan’s 1,005 unit apartment Waterfront South Central scheme after concluding that it is precluded from granting permission after a High Court ruling last November.

The appeals board found that as a result of the High Court ruling by Justice Richard Humphreys, the board does not have jurisdiction to materially contravene the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Planning Scheme under Strategic Housing Development legislative provisions.

Ronan’s Waterfront South Central scheme is planned for a site within the North Lotts scheme. The scheme imposes strict height limits and the 44 storey and 45 storey heights proposed were well in excess of what is allowed in the area.

The High Court decision concerned a case between Dublin City Council and the appeals board and another Johnny Ronan company, Spencer Place Development Company.

The appeals board stated that it agreed with its senior planning inspector, Rónán  O’Connor stating that an oral hearing was required to address outstanding issues in the Johnny Ronan Waterfront South Central proposal.

In a strident objection, Dublin City Council planners told An Bord Pleanala that the tower scheme should be refused on a number of grounds.

As part of a 63-page planning report lodged with An Bord Pleanala, the planners stated Ronan’s scheme represents overdevelopment and is “an inadequate design response to this sensitive site, would be of insufficient architectural quality, and if permitted would result in a poor placemaking outcome”.

The Council planners told An Bord Pleanala that the scheme if permitted “would negatively impact the receiving environment, in terms of daylight, sunlight and wind, and resulting in a poor standard of residential amenity for future residents”.

The Council has also recommended refusal as the proposed development would not be consistent with the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock SDZ Planning Scheme, which sets out specific height limits for the application site. 

In its objection against the scheme, An Taisce’s Kevin Duff told the appeals board that the impulse to construct two 40-plus storey towers “simply because Dublin does not have such buildings or because it does not look ‘international’ without them is ludicrous and is unsupportable environmentally”.

Duff stated that the type of housing proposed in the scheme “is rarely affordable and most likely to end up as corporate letting with little or no contribution to the housing supply or the housing crisis”.

However, the Docklands Business Forum stated that labelling Ronan as a ‘Manhattan style project’ is extraordinarily ill-informed.

In the forum’s submission, CEO Alan Robinson stated that the scheme would be only half the height of the ‘Shard’, London’s tallest building and would not even make the list for London’s top ten structures.

Robinson told the appeals board that Ronan’s planned 45 and 44 storey tower scheme “is modest in height” and should be given the green light.

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In a statement today, Ronan Group Real Estate said: “Ronan Group Real Estate welcomes An Bord Pleanála’s recognition that our proposed Strategic Housing Development at Waterfront South Central is the correct one for the site and would support Government policy on housing and development.

“We are therefore deeply disappointed that it felt legally obliged to refuse planning permission due to DCC’s legal action seeking to uphold the SDZ at the expense of the Government’s Strategic Housing Development policy. Unfortunately DCC’s continued efforts to frustrate Government policy are impeding much needed development in this area of Dublin.

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“The current SDZ for the area is nearly 10 years old and is entirely incompatible with what is now required for the area. Our ambition for Waterfront South Central is to create a landmark new development for Dublin that sets the standard for responsible and integrated development as the greenest city quarter in Ireland. At a time of much-needed housing, Waterfront South Central would deliver more than 1,000 apartments, including 100 social housing units. We will review this decision carefully and consider our options.”

A spokeswoman for Dublin City Council stated that the Council noted the decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse the application “and will give full consideration to the decision and the implications for its review of height policy in the docklands”.

She added: “However, Dublin City Council remains concerned that it is being presented in the media and general discourse that it is opposed to tall buildings in the Docklands. It must be stated categorically that the City Council is fully supportive of taller buildings in the right locations in the Docklands and elsewhere, which contribute to sustainable development of the city.”

She pointed out that the SDZ “provides for taller buildings, a number of which have been built, such as Capital Dock (25 storeys), Bolands Mills (15-16 storeys) and the EXO Building at the Point (17 commercial storeys)”.

The City Council spokeswoman stated that the North Lotts Grand Canal Docks SDZ Planning Scheme “has been extremely successful to date in delivering its objective of 366,000m2 of commercial development and 2,600 new residential units”.

The spokeswoman said: “The success of the Scheme is largely due to the fact that the taller buildings sit well within a coherent street pattern, comparable with the best European City traditions as seen in cities like Barcelona and Copenhagen. The scheme is achieving the highest densities in Ireland to date, (255 units per hectare).”

The spokeswoman stated that the NLGCD SDZ Planning Scheme “is based on a coherent urban structure including height. It has been very successful to date in transforming the Docklands area, largely due to buy-in from all stakeholders, in return for a fast-track system which avoids ad-hoc development”.

She added: “The Council, as designated Development Agency, has carried out a Height Review as required under the Government’s Height Guidelines. The Council, in safeguarding the integrity of the SDZ both itself and for future application in other strategic land banks, has had no other option in the circumstances but to defend its position in the cour

She concluded: “In all of this, the Council is keen to facilitate additional height in the SDZ area in line with the Guidelines, but this can only be done by amendment to the SDZ Planning Scheme, a position endorsed by the courts.”

About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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