An Bord Pleanala released their decision on the proposed Children’s Hospital on the Mater site this morning.  It refused the planning permission on the grounds that development was out of scale with the site, did not comply with Dublin City Development Plan, and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.  Here’s the full verdict:

The proposed Children’s Hospital of Ireland, by its nature, requires a substantial floor area, in excess of 100,000 square metres, to accommodate the operational needs of the hospital. However, the footprint afforded to the proposed development on the Mater Campus, (circa 2 hectares), has resulted in a proposal for a very significant building in terms of bulk and height, including a 164 metre long ward block, rising to 74 metres above ground. Notwithstanding the general acceptability of the proposal in terms of medical co-location on this inner city hospital site, it is considered that the proposed development, by reason of its height, scale, form and mass, located on this elevated site, would result in a dominant, visually incongruous structure and would have a profound negative impact on the appearance and visual amenity of the city skyline. The proposed development would contravene policy SC18 of the Dublin City Development Plan, 2011-2017, which seeks to protect and enhance the skyline of the inner city and to ensure that all proposals for mid-rise and taller buildings make a positive contribution to the urban character of the city.

Furthermore, the development as proposed, notwithstanding the quality of the design, would be inconsistent with, and adversely affect, the existing scale and character of the historic city and the established character of the local area and would seriously detract from the setting and character of protected structures, streetscapes and areas of conservation value and, in particular, the vistas of O’Connell Street and North Great George’s Street.

Having regard to the site masterplan for the Mater Campus submitted with this application, it is also considered that the proposed development, as configured, would constitute overdevelopment of the site.

The proposed development would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

The fair amount of the reaction to a planning decision on twitter and the news media seems to be one of bemusement, horror and disgust.  ‘Banana-Pleanala’ was one statement I’ve read so far.  I imagine there will be all kinds of outcry in the media throughout the day and massive political pressure will be bought to bare on An Bord Pleanala and the planning system for trying to enforce planning policy and law.

One of the primary reasons that the country is in the mess it is in is because the planning system was not allowed to do its job properly.  It seems to me that planners are damned if they do, and damed if they don’t.  If they enforce the regulations they are roundly criticised, and when they don’t enforce them and some disaster of a place is built they are damned for not stopping it.

Before all the critics wade in and roundly criticise the agency for doing its job, perhaps they could reflect on the fact that it is in fact doing the job it has been appointed to do by the state, and maybe the problem lies with the original decision about where to locate the hospital in the first place rather than the planning system.  Moreover, ABP has not said there shouldn’t be a children’s hospital in Dublin, but that if it should proceed on the proposed site and cannot retain its present proposed scale of development.

Ultimately, the bottom line in this decision is that 100,000 square meters of hospital development was going to be put on a two hectare site.  That’s the equivalent of 30 Liberty Halls on a the size of two football pitches.  In a dense urban area that already has traffic and parking issues.  If you think that is an acceptable scale of development, constitutes good planning, would be good for the citizens of Ireland, and want the planning decision overturned, then you’ll get the planning system and hospital service you desire.  Personally, I think we deserve better.

Rob Kitchin

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