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New docklands plan could deter major investors

PLANS to limit the height of new buildings in Dublin's docklands could force major employers to pull out of the capital, council chiefs have been warned.

Dublin City Council has adopted rules restricting commercial blocks to five storeys in large parts of a 163-acre zone in the docklands. But the move could drive away existing tenants and hamper efforts to attract new ones, international financial firm State Street has warned.

"It would not seem sensible to plan for five-storey buildings in this key city centre location where land is at a premium," the company, which employs more than 2,000 people in Ireland, said in documents submitted to An Bord Pleanala as part of an appeal against the plans.

"State Street chose to locate in the Dublin docklands on the understanding that a critical cluster of employment, FDI (foreign direct investment) and corporate locating would continue to be promoted in the area," stated a report lodged on behalf of the Sir John Rogerson's Quay-based firm. While the economic downturn of 2008 had stalled delivery of an international business district, the council's scheme may now "hamper this development", the document added.

The plans contain "a series of overly prescriptive land uses" and "restrictive" building heights, the firm said.

The council has made provision for varying height limits, ranging from five to eight storeys for commercial blocks and six to 10 storeys for residential blocks. There is also provision for a 22-storey landmark building at two locations – the Point Square on the north side and Britain Quay on the south side.

Much of the land in question, a strategic development zone (SDZ) spanning the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock on either side of the Liffey, is controlled by receivers or the State's 'bad bank', Nama.

A council spokeswoman said she could not comment directly on the submissions as she did not want to prejudice a forthcoming oral hearing by An Bord Pleanala. However, she confirmed that the council had received a total of 179 written submissions following two public display periods last March/April and August/September.

She told the Sunday Independent the submissions "covered the whole spectrum of opinions"; some complained the "inflexible" plans would make it difficult to attract foreign investment to the docklands. Others argued that the height and density range would have a negative effect on local residents.

The spokeswoman added: "The city council engaged in a transparent consultation process throughout, and considers that the approved scheme in November 2013 achieves a proper balance between often conflicting interests."

In its appeal, the Central Bank, which plans to relocate to an eight-storey premises on North Wall Quay in the first half of 2016, expressed concern that its new headquarters would be overshadowed. Its current home is an imposing multi-storey building on Dublin city's Dame Street, at the edge of Temple Bar. But the bank has "some serious concerns" it won't be the biggest kid on the block when it moves.

It is worried it will be "dominated" and "overlooked" by adjacent buildings, taking away from its status as "an institution of national significance". It has asked An Bord Pleanala to alter the SDZ to "avoid any potential for visual dominance" of its new premises, which was previously earmarked as a new HQ for the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank.

Elsewhere, the SDZ rules out one of the signature proposals of the Celtic Tiger era –- the 126m tall Watch Tower at the Point Village.

The skyscraper, the brainchild of developer Harry Crosbie, would have contained a viewing deck and sky restaurant at a height of more than 100m and had already received permission from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA).

Council planners seek the removal of the "permitted (and commenced) residential and commercial development" and its "apparent merging with a smaller free-standing landmark building", the receivers to the Point Village, Paul McCann and Steven Tennant of Grant Thornton, said in their appeal.

"(Development) has commenced on the Watch Tower site for a 126m building, with significant investment in pre-development works at foundation and basement level made during the redevelopment of the Point Square ... the prop-osal now to remove this building and instead to supplant it with a 22-storey commercial building (typically 88m) at a location to its south is not acceptable to the receivers," they added.

They insisted "no design, planning or other justification" had been outlined for the height reduction and argued the Watch Tower "should remain a key part of the Point Village development programme".

The council guidelines also limit the 30-storey U2 tower planned for Britain Quay to 22 storeys. Submissions made on behalf of residents have contended that many of the buildings will be too tall, overshadowing their homes.

The North Port Dwellers Association said it considers the height and scale in the new buildings close to the junction of Mayor Street and New Wapping Street "must be reduced" to a maximum of three storeys.

"This includes the blocks directly across the road from houses on New Wapping Street and Mayor Street Upper," the association added.

The council adopted the planning scheme last November but it was appealed to An Bord Pleanala, which decided to hold an oral hearing before making a final decision on the SDZ. A date has yet to be set for the hearing.

Irish Independent