Dublin split over the U2 Tower

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Dubliners like a good debate and a recent hot topic of discussion has been the U2 Tower, the development in the city's docks area that has earned its nickname through the involvement of Bono and other members of the Irish rock band.

Paul Shearer, Times Online

Prices have been falling across most of Ireland, but in the capital developers have not lost their appetite for looking skywards. Dublin, the argument runs, is suffering from urban sprawl. Traffic is clogging up and polluting the city and surrounding suburbs. The city council says that it has been losing tax revenue as business park and retail developments have been built outside the city. So the developers' solution is to build tall in the city centre - a decision that has caused considerable local controversy, as similar schemes have done in London.

Last October Geranger, a consortium consisting of Ballymore Properties, Patrick McKillen and August Partners (representing U2 band members and management), were selected by the docklands authority as provisional preferred bidders for the U2 Tower, which will have a recording studio for the band at the top. Foster & Partners, the consortium's architects, have proposed a 130m (430 ft) mixed-use tower on the landmark site at the meeting point of the River Liffey, the River Dodder and the Grand Canal. This scheme replaced a proposal for a 60m tower; some were annoyed that the first scheme was so unceremoniously dropped in favour of the Foster design. On the other side of the river, another 100m-plus structure is planned, the Point Village Watchtower, which will combine with the Foster tower to create a gateway.

Geranger hopes to achieve preferred bidder status in the near future, once it has submitted more detailed plans that should clarify the height of the building and the status of the U2 studio, a suspended egg-shaped pod. A spokeswoman for Ballymore said that the consortium is anticipating starting work on the building within the next 12 months. But there are those who do not see this as a positive development.

Ian Lumley, of An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, says: “We were very happy with the original 60m proposal and don't see the need for these megalomaniac schemes. The previous plan was very harmonious and these new proposals threaten to undermine the good relations that have been built up in the area between residents and developers.” The trust's view is that developers overpaid for the land and are trying to recoup the cost by building higher. It queries whether the U2 Tower scheme has had a proper environmental impact assessment.

Dublin City Council recently published a consultation document, Maximising the City's Potential, which addresses the issue: “High buildings have a part to play as ... high-density clusters with significant capacity to promote urban regeneration and increase Dublin's competitive edge.”

An Taisce has plans to table a strongly worded objection. “These proposals threaten to destroy one of the last great low-rise European city centres,” Lumley says.

The trend for high-rise is not confined to the historic centre of Dublin. In June last year the developer Sean Dunne submitted plans for the seven-acre Jurys Berkeley Court site in the smart neighbourhood of Ballsbridge. These included a 37-storey, 132m tower as the centrepiece: its architect, Ulrik Raysse, described it as “cut like a diamond”. The plans, however, cut no ice with planners: after vociferous local opposition, they requested further details from the developer. These were submitted in January; the council is due to reply by next week.

Fact file

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority, established in 1999, has its own special planning zone, and it has not been reluctant to flex its planning muscle to bring internationally renowned architects to the regeneration project of the docks. The Irish architect Kevin Roche is building a €400 million (£301 million) convention centre, Studio Libeskind is building a 2,000-seat theatre, and there will be a five-star hotel designed by the architect Manuel Aires Mateus. Other reputed architects have been building bridges across the dock - the Catalan designer Santiago Calatrava is working on the delightfully named Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The Numbers

Stamp duty in Ireland was reformed last year. Seven rates were replaced with two: a 7 per cent levy on properties from €125,000 (£94,000) to €1million, and a 9 per cent rate above €1million.

The average price for a two-bed flat in Co Dublin is €405,986, down 1.96 per cent in the last quarter of 2007. The average three-bed semi is €512,657, down 1.13 per cent (www.myhome.ie ).

The number of new-build homes in Ireland is set to fall by almost a third, from nearly 90,000 in 2007 to 50,000-60,000 in 2008 (www.lisney.com ).

© 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on February 29, 2008 6:35 PM.

Bono's Dublin Hotel Plan Pits Rocker Against Preservationists was the previous entry in this blog.

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