Sunday 22 September 2019

High time developers were allowed to build tall in cities

LANDMARK BUILDING: Convention Centre Dublin
LANDMARK BUILDING: Convention Centre Dublin

Paul McNeive

Tall buildings and high-density "co-living" units are generating much controversy at the moment. Whilst both topics are grounded in an intensification of how we use our land, different issues arise in considering their advantages and disadvantages.

The debate as to the appropriate heights for buildings in cities has moved onwards and upwards, and the trend is for both local and national planning authorities to permit taller buildings. It will be interesting to see if that trend is affected by the resurgence of the Green Party in last week's elections

In the meantime, we have the unprecedented campaign by Johnny Ronan and Colony Capital to influence both public opinion - and perhaps planners' opinions - with advertisements in national newspapers, saying a poll they commissioned shows that Dubliners are in favour of taller buildings. The stakes are high, as every extra floor allowed adds value for the developers and "raises the bar" for both Johnny Ronan's sites, and everyone else's.

The arguments for more height are overwhelming. From an economic and social point of view, there is a shortage of office space, hotels and apartments and taller buildings will reduce rents.

Aesthetically, taller buildings will enhance our city and skyline. I stood on the East-Link bridge recently and looked upriver, and Dublin docklands is architecturally uninspiring.

Apart from some interest around the Convention Centre and the Central Bank, the overall impression is of a series of squat, boring buildings. It is a huge missed opportunity.

Those arguing against tall buildings say increasing height adds to the developers' profit.

So what? Let the developers take their risk and find-out what the most viable heights are.

Others argue the debate around height has slowed development, because developers are delaying in the hope of getting more valuable permissions.

Again, in the long-run, so what? If one looks at the frenetic construction activity in docklands, it's hard to believe anyone is delaying anything - especially in this strong market.

I am all for a radical increase in height, especially in docklands and similar, newly developing areas.

The debate is more controversial in the historic cores of cities - and then turns on the subjective view of one or two planner - as to whether a new, tall building will damage or enhance its surroundings.

Examples I have looked at in cities like London, Montreal and Boston tell me that tall buildings of high-quality design can enhance their surroundings.

Whilst it's not a "tall building" in the context of this column, I was interested to see that one of the short-listed nominations in this year's Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Awards is Grant Thornton's new headquarters on City Quay, Dublin 2. It's a striking modern design by Henry J Lyons, yet it's within two metres of Saint Mary's Church. But the stark contrast between the two beautiful buildings enhances them both.

We're also set for a wave of "co-living" developments aimed at young professionals who rent a very small bedroom, and have shared use of kitchens and living areas.

Again, these work abroad and they can here, although it's not clear yet how much of the demand will arise because there is no affordable choice or because this is what a cohort of people want. I think we should permit some in cities, but monitor them carefully.

HHHHH

I HAD the honour of being keynote speaker at the Summit Therapeutics plc strategy meeting in England last week. Summit Therapeutics plc is one of very few companies in the world, working to develop new classes of antibiotics.

Galwayman Dr David Powell, who is head of research and senior vice president, told me innovation in antibiotic research is key in combating the threat of antibiotic resistant infections.

Summit plc's most advanced antibiotic is in the final stage of clinical testing, and is manufactured and distributed at a facility in Northern Ireland.

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