Smithfield skyscraper slammed
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The decision by Dublin City Manager, John Fitzgerald, to grant permission for a proposed high-rise development in Smithfield, Dublin, is set to reignite the campaign against high-rise developments in the inner city.
The £126 million development of residential, business, retail and cultural facilities in the capital has come under fire from locals, who say the complex would dwarf all other buildings in the area. In particular, they are objecting to the 23-storey residential tower that forms the centrepiece of the plan and would be almost twice the size of the city's biggest building at present - Liberty Hall. While promoters of the complex are probably delighted that the Corporation has approved the move - without any restrictions - local residents claim that the building will be inimical to the structure of the rest of the area.
Even without the 23-storey tower, the complex would be significantly higher than the highest point of the Jameson Distillery development it faces. The central spine of the plan would be nine storeys high itself - far higher than the new Jameson observation tower, touted as an ideal point from which to view Dublin city's urban sprawl.
The Jameson development, along with most of the construction ongoing in the area, is the result of the Historic Area Rejuvenation Project (HARP) - a four-year-old local government plan. While the project covers a large area from O'Connell Street west to Collins' Barracks, Smithfield has been specially targeted by developers as another prospective touristic success, in the same vein as Temple Bar. Its ample civic space, formerly a thriving market area, had been neglected for many years, but has now become an attractive European-style plaza. However, the 220 apartments, Irish whiskey visitor centre, hotel, restaurants and traditional music museum have not come without some discomfort - and disappointment - for locals and traditional traders.
Horse traders threatened legal proceedings last Febuary, when they thought Dublin Corporation was attempting to relocate their traditional monthly Smithfield market, which dates back to 1664. The market had been relocated to a nearby site at Grangegorman while the central square was being redeveloped, with the help of £3.5 million in local government and EU funding. However, when traders and horse owners moved back to the newly refurbished square, against Dublin Corporation's will, a row broke out between the two parties. Corporation officials subsequently denied any attempt to abandon the horse fair and promised to prioritise it as an integral part of the development.
Local residents have also alleged that they were treated shabbily - this time by hotel management at the plush new Chief O'Neills Hotel. While developers had claimed that the hotel would become an amenity for the local community, and that community then put up with the significant disruption caused during its construction, locals later expressed disappointment at what they saw as a betrayal of their goodwill. The `amenity' had become a no-go zone when hotel bouncers systematically refused local residents from the trendy hotel bar.
But locals can take courage from the recent victory of residents in East Wall, Sheriff Street and the surrounding areas, where residents objected on similar grounds to the huge Spencer Dock development plan - and won. An Bord Pleanála decided to block a major part of the £1.2 billion development plan for the area.
Following objections by residents, who stood to be overshadowed by the plans, An Bord Pleanála denied planning permission for the two hotels, nine office blocks and eleven apartment blocks, which constituted the bulk of the proposals.
A consortium of business interests led by the Treasury Holdings company had backed the proposals and were accused of having ignored the concerns expressed by local residents.
One of the central issues in this objection, and one which will likely emerge for the people of Smithfield, is the lack of funding available for legal costs incurred by those making the objections. Sinn Féin Councillor Nicky Kehoe has been calling on the government to allocate funding for the legal campaign of the local residents and representatives.
``The government should withold any further financial sponsorships or tax incentives for these projects until the developers and consortiums involved have decided to engage in meaningful consultations with the local community,'' he said. ``The people already living in Smithfield are the ones who stand to be most affected by the plans. If residents' legal costs are not met, the financial might of prospectors will again, as was the case with Spencer Dock, be used to subvert local democracy.''