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4 March 1999 Edition

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Commemorate the Crooks

At the risk of being labelled in the same way as a certain `Bert the Expert' who once described current architecture in London as akin to a `monstrous carbuncle' on the landscape, I think the present debate on developments in Dublin deserves a mention in dispatches. The latest proposed imposition on the quay side in the capital city is certain to cause uproar. The Spencer Dock Development is now a `thirty something', having already passed through numerous revisions, and while the plans unveiled this week show a marked reduction in height and a breaking up of what would have been a solid wall effect of high buildings across the Liffey half way between the Custom House and Point Depot, it's still big. Very big..

The development is massive, rather than monstrous, and while it makes dense use of the 51 acre site the designers boast that the plan also caters for an acre of parkland, and wide uncluttered steps which could act as part of a venue for outdoor street performances. It is doubtful, however, if Seán or Máire public will ever venture into the midst of such a huge complex. The proposed apartments will undoubtedly be private, the technology centre out of bounds to the uninvited, the hotels open only to the rich and famous able to afford Dublin hotel prices, the offices confined to the office workers and the conference centre used only by those attending conferences. In short, the 51 acres of central Dublin will probably remain as secluded as they have throughout their life as a CIE goods and end of track yard. Except now, they'll also have a huge amalgam of buildings, average height 76 metres, rising up to greet them every morning.

Meanwhile across the river local residents on the Southside voice their concerns about another high rise development, planned as the tallest in the city, for their side of the river. Organising at the local level, demanding a say in the environment and the quality of life, raising objections as high as the buildings planned, these are now within the gift of communities, and the planning procedure itself looks set to become - if not transparent - open to scrutiny. Money is still power, however, and a level playing field in planning objections would require curtailing the developers glitzy presentation or assisting the residents in preparing an equal if opposite case for consideration.

What then of the legacy of suspect planning decisions made to date in the history of Dublin - and in the state? The Irish Times commented a fortnight ago that the Dublin City Manager, George Redmond, had presided over the levelling of many Georgian buildings in the redevelopment of Dublin, and we must assume that for every old building decimated that a glass-fronted, car-park friendly, minimum ten-story, lego-block design building grew up from the rubble. And none of us know for certain how many brown paper parcels and slim cheque-filled envelopes sped the buildings on their way up, and out, and around Dublin, Cork, Galway or wherever planners plan, builders build and bankers bank.

It will come as little satisfaction, I suppose, to think that those in whose gift it is to approve or decline planning permission for these grand scale developments are possibly so petrified at the prospect of being brought before a tribunal, that ongoing planning disputes are more likely to be about the value of the development to the city than about the value to the decision makers of the envelope accompanying the plans. Maybe I'm naive but I think that gives well organised communities a hope, a chance of ensuring that their views are taken into account in this generation, where they were ignored under an avalanche of bribery and gifts in the last.

Meanwhile the blight of the skyline and cityscape of the past twenty or thirty years is still with us, and we're stuck with the consequences of dodgy dealing. The Tribunals should identify every crooked deal struck and every building project allowed as a result of corruption. And then commemorative plaques should be fixed in place to remind us of who is to blame and to spur communities on to ensure that such a system is never allowed to develop again.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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