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'Mini Stonehenge': Utility boxes used to develop Luas don't need planning permission

The Dublin Civic Trust described the emergence of the boxes as “appalling.”

Utility boxes in College Green.
Utility boxes in College Green.
Image: Sam Boal

A SERIES OF utility boxes described as a “mini Stonehenge” which sprung up around Dublin city centre to facilitate Luas works do not require planning permission, An Bord Pleanála has ruled.

The planning appeals authority has confirmed that the infrastructure located at College Green and Lower Grafton Street, which had been widely criticised by heritage and environmental groups, are considered an exempted development under planning legislation.

A total of 19 utility boxes were erected at the two locations at one stage, although some have subsequently been removed and the figure is now 14.

Similar other installations were also erected in other parts of the city centre including O’Connell Street and along the route of the Luas Cross City line.

The planning status of the utility boxes had been referred to the board by environmental campaigner and former Irish Times journalist, Frank McDonald amid complaints they represented “a mini-Stonehenge”.

Critics expressed shock that such a development should be allowed given the council’s own plans for a €10 million pedestrian plaza at College Green.

The Dublin Civic Trust described the emergence of the boxes as “appalling.”

The boxes contain electronic equipment which Transport Infrastructure Ireland claimed was vital for the development of the service linking the Luas red and green lines which came into operation in December 2017.

Other utility infrastructure was erected by BT Telecoms, the ESB and Dublin City Council (for public lighting).

The planning authorities admitted it was unknown who had erected one mini-cabinet on Grafton Street.

Dublin City Council claimed that the utility boxes were used as part of a traffic signal system which meant they were an exempted development under various pieces of legislation.

Frank McDonald argued that the equipment could not be considered “traffic calming measures” as required under the legislation to gain an exemption from needing planning permission.

“They are not merely a major eyesore but also an impediment to pedestrian movement, especially for blind people,” said McDonald.

However, An Bord Pleanála ruled that the utility boxes did not pose any danger to public safety or represent a traffic hazard. 

The board also concluded that they did not materially affect the character of the Grafton Street and Environs Architectural Conservation Area or the Provost’s House in Trinity College – a protected structure.

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Seán McCárthaigh

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