A MULTI-MILLION euro interactive science centre for children featuring a planetarium has been granted planning permission for the centre of Dublin.
In a decision published this week, An Bord Pleanala has directed that the state-owned Real Tennis court building on Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin be brought back to a playable condition as part of the development, however.
The proposals mean the main science centre, featuring a 15 metre dome and 200 interactive exhibits, will be in the old north wing of the National Concert Hall, but connected to the Real Tennis building by a tunnel.
The project, also known as the Exploration Station, has been flagged for completion by 2018, once the €13 million needed for the exhibits is raised.
The centre is designed to appeal to children aged from four to 16 years of age, and is expected to bring in up to 150,000 visitors of all ages per year once completed.
UCD hosted medical and engineering students on the site until 2007.
Conditions attached to the permission granted by the board to the OPW mean original elements of the Real Tennis court – built by the Guinness family in 1884 – must now be preserved for occasional future matches.
An Bord Pleanala notes that it is “the only building of its type in Ireland”, and writes that “its full restoration to a fit for purpose Real Tennis Court is an honourable ambition”. Real Tennis, dating to the 14th century, was the precusor to modern lawn tennis, and is still played in some countries.
The OPW plans attracted submissions from real tennis enthusiasts in the US, England, Australia and France – as well as An Taisce, the Irish Real Tennis Association, as well Senator David Norris and Jonathan Irwin of the Jack and Jill Foundation.
In her report, planning inspector Karla McBride remarked on the “energetic and candid exchange of views” between parties about the future of the building.
The 13 conditions imposed by An Bord Pleanála include a detailed plan for relocating the bronze statue of internationally renowned Irish tenor Count John McCormack, which is due to be moved from the Iveagh Gardens during construction.
Mature trees will be cut down in the Iveagh Gardens for the proposal, part of which will be included in the park.
“The proposed works would also result in the loss of mature trees in the Iveagh Gardens and the view from the Gardens towards the NCH site would be altered,” the inspector notes.
The development may also harm bats which live in the wall between the park and the National Concert Hall Site, in which case the OPW will need a special derogation from the National Parks and Wildlife Service “for their removal”.
The Office of Public Works was originally granted permission by Dublin City Council to commence building the centre in April, but the decision prompted protests from sporting and historical preservation groups over the proposed use of the Real Tennis Building for exhibitions.
Today the Irish Real Tennis Association strongly welcomed the An Bord Pleanála decision, which requires the developer to “submit a detailed proposal to the planning authority for the temporary reinstatement of the penthouse galleries and any other essential features required for playing Real Tennis matches.”