Sunday 24 March 2019

Planners backed U2 bid 'out of deference'

An artist's impression of what the new Clarence Hotel will look like once the planned €150m revamp has been completed
An artist's impression of what the new Clarence Hotel will look like once the planned €150m revamp has been completed
Michael Smith said architect's comments 'were damning'

Patricia McDonagh

The former head of An Taisce last night expressed concern that approval was given to U2's controversial revamp of the Clarence Hotel out of "deference".

Dublin City Council officials granted the superstar rock group planning permission to go ahead with their €150m planned revamp amid criticism last week. A condition is that the developers contribute almost €1m to council initiatives, such as the cost of the Metro North rail line.

However, the council's own city conservation architect, Clare Hogan, had advised a refusal in her report -- stating that the planned development did not meet legal requirements.

She expressed concern that the band was unable to provide "exceptional circumstances" to demolish four neighbouring listed buildings -- as required under the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Co-owners Bono and the Edge plan to demolish the Georgian buildings and transform the 44-bedroom boutique hotel into a 141-bedroom, five-star hotel and spa -- complete with restaurant, bar and fresh food market.

Speculative

However, their inability to follow procedure meant that the decision was "reminiscent of the climate of 1960s speculative development", she said.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, former head of An Taisce, Michael Smith, said that Ms Hogan's comments were damming.

"She is blatantly saying that this should not have been given permission and recommended a refusal," he said.

"Although this was not unexpected, it is clearly in breach of national legislation and the city council's own plans.

"It seems obvious that the planning department rubberstamped this application out of deference to a renowned architect and a sexy developer."

But, according to the environmentalist, it would be "foolish" to mount a legal challenge to the decision at this stage, as the entire planning process needs to be exhausted before the courts intervene.

Only if An Bord Pleanala finds the decision unfavourable, will conservationists and environmentalists be allowed to mount a legal challenge.

In contrast, senior executive planner, Anthony Abbot-King, has branded the scheme as an "exemplary design solution".

He also considered the four Georgian buildings to be in "poor to very poor condition".

Architect firm Foster & Partners has said that, in order to turn the hotel into a rival of the greatest luxury hotels in the world, the plans have to be drastic.

However, a spokesman for the firm said that the "exceptional" new hotel would not see the streetscape of the Wellington Quay side in any way altered.

"If we were to keep the building as it is, we would have no scope to create the grandeur and interest that would be demanded for one that aspires to be the world's best," the spokesman added.

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