Locals 'gobsmacked' as 'monolithic' Dublin apartment complex to go ahead

The development planned for the Chivers site in Coolock

Allison Bray

Neighbours and public representatives are furious after planning permission was granted for a 471-apartment complex in the middle of an established residential area in north Dublin.

An Bord Pleanala gave the go-ahead last week for one of the biggest build-to-rent schemes undertaken to date at the site of the former Chivers jam factory in Coolock.

This was despite the objections of a senior planning inspector who dismissed the scheme as "monolithic", saying it would "set an undesirable precedent" for suburban developments.

The proposal, by London-based developers Platinum Land, was approved under the new fast-track Strategic Housing Development scheme.

This allows land development proposals to bypass approval by the local planning authority and be heard directly by the planning body.

The project initially proposed transforming the derelict site into four apartment towers consisting of 495 apartments of up to five storeys high.

However, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy removed the height restrictions, which allowed the developers to apply to double the height of the buildings to 10 storeys.

While An Bord Pleanala reduced the height to eight and nine storeys as a condition of granting the application, the planning body's senior inspector Joanna Kelly concluded that the project should not go ahead at all following her inspection last month.

In her 72-page report submitted to the board, Ms Kelly described the "arrangement of the proposed blocks and overall design of the scheme" as "monolithic".

She said it "would set an undesirable precedent for the repetition of this proposed form, with unsympathetic proportions relative to the character and pattern of development in the immediate area".

Ms Kelly also noted her concerns that the scale and density of the project is "premature pending the delivery of a high-capacity public transport system in the immediate area of the development site".

She said a subsequent influx of tenants to the area "will give rise to an increase in population within this local area".

Ms Kelly added that she was "not convinced that there is a commensurate level of employment opportunities, social and recreational facilities required to underpin sustainable neighbourhoods".

"The development strategy for the site itself, both in terms of scale and height, is considered excessive," she wrote.

However, the board rejected Ms Kelly's concerns, saying the development would be located "within sufficient distance of several major employment centres".

These include "Beaumont Hospital and the city centre and within one kilometre of a high-capacity integrated public transportation system".

It also rejected her concerns that the project would set an undesirable precedent for similar developments or that the overall design was "monolithic".

The board said the scale and proposed population density is "fully in accordance" with the new Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities.

However, some local councillors said the proposed development has not gone down well in the area.

Sinn Fein's Larry O'Toole said local people are furious about the visual impact the development would have on the area.

Neighbours were initially told by Platinum Land that the four tower blocks would be only five-storeys high, but what was ultimately approved is nearly double that, said Mr O'Toole.

"It's not at all what we thought," he said. "The residents were given a presentation and it certainly doesn't look anything like the final proposal.

"It's totally out of character with the rest of the area."

Mr O'Toole said some Dublin city councillors, including himself, voted to rezone the derelict site from industrial to residential in order to provide much-needed housing.

"But I'm not happy at all with the way it turned out," he said.

His council colleague, Patricia Roe of the Social Democrats, said: "I'm all for high-density, but we seem to be going about it the wrong way because of the housing crisis."

Ms Roe said the relaxing of height restrictions has led to a number of developers planning to build in the area re-submitting applications seeking to add numerous storeys.

She said she was also "gobsmacked" that the planning board disregarded its own inspector and granted permission anyway.

"It's horrific. I think what we have is panic," she said.

"The fact is that experts are being over-ruled, but to stick these huge monolithic buildings in the middle of two-storey homes?

"Don't plonk high-rises in the middle of an area that is low rise."

A spokesman for An Bord Pleanala said the only option for those seeking to overturn the decision is to launch a judicial review.

Aside from the cost involved, the court action can only be taken on procedural grounds and "not the merit of the case", he said.

The spokesman added that while it is not common, neither is it unusual for the board to reject the advice of its own inspectors,

Officials from Platinum Land, owned by Irish developers Maurice and Andres Gillick, did not respond to requests for comment by the Herald.

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