20 July, 2008

Clarence Hotel Decision

Thanks to Tom Cosgrave for the prompt.

Yep the planning approval for the Clarence gets my goat. Actually, the extra couple of floors that the Clarence got fifteen years ago annoyed me as well. Blame for that one can be laid at the door of Gay McCarron who was Dublin City Planning Officer at the time. One of the principle objections back then was that it would open the door to the future demolition of the four story buildings next door, and that's exactly what is happening.

One of the worst aspects of the current scheme is the emphasis on facade retention. It is not dissimilar to practicing taxidermy on a beautiful old friend while their heart is still beating. The Clarence is an attractive early 1930s building, and the buildings to the east are much older. They will all be subsumed into the scheme but are worthy of retention in their entirety. I didn't like the way the members of the City of Dublin Workingmen's Club which used to be located beside the Clarence were decanted into a new building off Capel Street. I also don't like the arguments that you hear time and time again about how hotels don't stack up commercially unless they double their number of bedrooms. Incidentally the Inspector felt that the building which housed the club was of regional importance on page 44 of his report.

I've argued this out with Laura Magahy when she was MD of Temple Bar Properties years ago, but the area's essential quality used to be its small scale-character, and time and again that was altered by planning decisions made by Temple Bar Properties, Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála. If Dublin does need a five star hotel with a flying saucer on top then maybe Docklands is the place for it, not Temple Bar.

The precedent of allowing facade retention of listed buildings (Protected Structures) is a dangerous one, and could open the floodgates for second-rate planning applications all over the country. The decision may refer to this as a "bespoke building of design excellence", but in my mind its open season . If you can't hold on to Protected Structure in a Conservation Area, then who knows where it will end? It's also worrying (and perhaps unprecedented?) that the Board's decision seems to diverge from the conservation advice given by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

I'm also annoyed by the way the Boys went down the 'Starchitecture' route of choosing Norman Foster's firm for the job. It shows the same lack of design confidence that many cities (including Dublin) display when they opt for a Calatrava bridge. If Dublin City Council really cared that much about design they wouldn't allow replica Victorian litter bins (Did the Victorians use litter bins on their streets?) to be placed blocking the lighting on the south side of the James Joyce Bridge on the Quays. Instead of choosing architects like Kevin Roche, Norman Foster or Santiago Calatrava for projects in Dublin twenty or forty years after they've emerged on the world stage we should be choosing today's rising stars for these projects.

15 July, 2008

Urban Clutter

Metropanels and Metropoles, what ever way you look at it, the whole thing stinks.

It was a stitch-up between Dublin City Council officials and the Advertising Company JCDecaux. In return for taking down 48 billboard ads around the city, JCDecaux get to erect 120 ads all over the middle of Dublin. The amazing thing is that many of the signs they're removing never had planning permission in the first place, and they haven't even made public the list of what is being removed. JC Decaux know their way around Dublin, and I've know doubt that they've picked the highest value sites for their urban clutter.

Apart from the visual pollution they're causing a traffic hazard and an impediment to pedestrians. Just look at this poor couple crossing Parnell Street with a walking aid. In a moment they'll be invisible to fast moving traffic. It's an accident waiting to happen and makes my blood boil. Thankfully they've removed the one on Dorset Street, but they should just drop the whole project. Boards was on to it early on, as was the Village magazine and Ian Lumley from An Taisce.

Oh, they're throwing in a few free bikes as a sop to the Council, but as far as I'm concerned the whole idea should have been killed at birth. Well done to DangerInDublin, Mulley (though I can't find my way through his old entries to find the exact link) and others who have also highlighted the issue. Bee's entry on Boards.ie of a terrier pup whimpering after it ran under one grazing its back would be humorous if it wasn't so sad, not to mind the concerns of NCBI. Their guidelines on street furniture are ignored left right and centre with these signs, and there's worse to come when they put in the ones at head height.

Lunatics and asylums come to mind. I also feel a rant against Michael O'Leary coming on, but I'll deal with that in another forum.

Hopefully our County Manager in Dún Laoghaire Owen Keegan won't fall for their same sales schpiel from JC Decaux.

03 July, 2008

Finally, some good news

Wednesday evening's vote had taken place and I'd retired to the Dáil bar for a quiet pint to consider the state of the nation with Senator Dan Boyle.

Dan held up his Blackberry as I came back from the Bar with the pints.

'Breaking News Ingrid Betancourt freed from captivity'

I couldn't believe it, and I hightailed it back to my office on the sixth floor to get out a press release. I held my breath and checked RTE, the BBC, and New York Times online. They were all running with the story, so it had to be true. Ingrid Betancourt was the Green Party candidate for president of Colombia six years ago, and we had almost lost hope that she was still alive. I had written a draft release back in January at the time of the release of her colleague Clara Rojas. This was incredible news. Then there was one other thing to do, email Anne O' Connell of the Irish Betancourt Support Group and congratulate them on not giving up hope.

By the time I got back downstairs Dan had to head out for a grilling with Vincent Browne on TV3. I told him to smile gracefully if Vincent tried his 'laughing at the interviewee' technique. When I got home the midweek movie was on, and possession being nine tenths of the law I didn't get to see how Dan fared. Today Le Monde and Le Figaro are updating the story every few minutes and it all seems like good news. I'm sure there's more to the story than meets the eye, as Michael Noonan suggested to me last night in the lift, and it seems more than coincidence that France is currently holding the European Presidency, but for the moment let's rejoice.

Statements on Climate Change in the House this morning, and I'd forgotten that John Gormley was at the European Council meeting in Paris. That meant that I had to hightail it downstairs and speak for ten minutes in what will not go down as my finest parliamentary contribution. Mind you the opposition contributors kept criticising him for not being there so at least I was able to remind them that he was tackling the issue at the heart of Europe. As far as I could make out, most contributions were along the lines of "Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity" which hardly breaks new ground given that a least a dozen politicians either came up with the phrase independently, or else did a Terence Flanagan on the issue. Even John's been caught out on that one, and it seems from the timeline that Red Ken got there first. I went for the old 'turning the supertanker around' line, which wasn't exactly that novel either.

The rain this morning didn't help , and I also understand from the spin-doctors that we're not meant to be mentioning the 'R word'. However on the brighter side of things the Green Party Staff Tag Team won last night in a game against ODSE, giants of the legal world, bringing a six week losing streak to an end.

Things are looking up.