15 Dec 2006
This one is going back a little more than five years or so but things haven’t changed that much in the meantime and I’m sure the same situation is being played out somewhere in the country as we speak. Before I start, I have to offer some little explanation of how local authorities are organised. First of all you have different departments (car tax, roads, planning, etc) and then within these departments you have different sections so that within the planning department you might have ‘forward planning’, ‘backward planning’ (okay, I made that one up), ‘development control’, etc. Then, within each of these sections you’ll have ‘technical’ staff (planners and engineers) and administrators.
15 Dec 2006
You’ll have noticed a lot of planning related stories about Greystones in the newspapers lately. There are two separate issues. First, the town recently renewed its development plan and, as part of the to and fro that goes with the territory, proposals to rezone an area for residential development in Charlesland were introduced and then approved by the councillors very, very late in the game. The land owner successfully argued that his property should be rezoned from ‘industrial’ to ‘residential’. In exchange for the lotto sized windfall he’d create some community facilities. It’s going on everywhere (indeed there are similar lower profile cases in Greystones as well).
15 Dec 2006
Grafton Street Regarding the discussion last week on the extremely debatable/possibly a serious mistake decision by Dublin City Council to designate Grafton Street an Architectural Conservation area, this from Labour Cllr Dermot Lacey in Dublin City Council: ‘Thank you for sending me a copy of the Planning Dispatch. I actually really enjoyed it and found myself roughly agreeing with half and violently disagreeing with the rest. On the Grafton Street Plan … I was convinced that it was desirable to have a special plan for what I regard to be a special place and to try and lift the street again form its present state. Yes I would have loved to see more media coverage of the issue… However when we have a Public Service Broadcaster that is so awful and so ill informed this can be hard to achieve.’
6 Dec 2006
This from Michael Leahy: ‘Excellent dispatch. I'm delighted there is a forum where we may address the attacks against due process which are now inherent in the planning process. It is however important to propose an alternative system to the quite dreadful local authority system and to this end I think that a working group to look at best practice in other jurisdictions would be useful. As a practicing architect and planner I would happily undertake some work on this if others are interested in joining me.’
6 Dec 2006
Not too long ago, an average middle income couple living in a two up two down semi-d in the suburbs of a mid sized city decided to extend their home. Not having a very large budget, their proposals were modest: a two storey element creating two rooms, one on each floor, measuring no more than 200 square feet each or 400 square feet in total. They consulted a reputable architect who did a very nice little design for them. The result was exactly the kind of application which you’d expect would get through planning with the minimum of fuss. But wait. As the date approached for the Planning Authority to announce it’s decision on the matter, it issued a request for information. It seemed that, in order to reach a proper decision, the planners needed to have a ‘shadow diagram’ prepared. Apparently they were concerned about the shadow the new and very small extension would cast on a neighbouring house which was almost directly south of the house for which permission was sought.
6 Dec 2006

Now, while Grafton Street is (in my view, but its open to question) no great example of the art of architecture or urban design St. Stephen’s Green is the one part of Dublin city which really is world class: long tree lined vistas on all four sides with a backdrop of the most elegant Georgian buildings in the city. Up until a few years ago, the one way traffic system around the square added to the effect. Arriving into the Stephen’s Green from, say Harcourt Street, never failed to thrill: there was a real magic to it. The drive around the full square gave a real sense of its scale and grandeur.

And now they’ve gone and screwed the whole thing up. The entire west side has been hived off and turned into a tatty tram terminal – overhead cables, tripping hazards and all the rest. It no longer seems to have any relationship with the other three sides which are now a maze of frightening traffic lanes separated by the ugliest black and red poles a local authority ever spent money on.

In the old days, the great thing about the Green was how integrated it was into the greater fabric of city. Now it feels isolated from the rest of Dublin.

6 Dec 2006
Grafton Street is… well its okay. From an architect’s perspective you might say it’s a little unusual in Dublin terms – slightly twisty and narrow with a funny mix of pastichy old buildings and contemporary shopfronts, some of it good, some of it less successful. I think we all agree that its special character comes from the fact that it sees itself as quite upmarket, proud of the fact that it is one of the top ten most expensive streets to buy or rent in in the world. Which is fine. However, as most of the buildings on the street were constructed or at least gut-renovated within my own lifetime, I found it curious that Dublin City Council decided to designate Grafton Street an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). The designation of an ACA implies some genuine architectural quality (I’m thinking Merrion or Fitzwilliam Squares in Dublin or The Crescent in Limerick), or real historic significance (mmm…). My personal feeling is that if you take away the polished accents and Trinners scarves all you’re left with is something which could pass for your average English high street.