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Dublin skyscrapers felled

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The Irish Planning Board has kicked into touch plans for what would have been Dublin's tallest skyscraper and has severely dented plans for another, even taller effort designed by Kevin Roche. The schemes, with a total cost of £1.15 billion, come as the city is set to commission a study on its future height policy.

In a landmark decision, the board, An Bord Pleanala, has revoked permission for the £148 million office, apartment and retail project at George's Quay, in the city centre, mainly because of its height. The project, designed by international architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill, features a cluster of glass towers rising to a height of 73.7 metres - 15 metres higher than Liberty Hall, currently Dublin's tallest building.

In setting aside the permission for the complex granted by Dublin Corporation, the board pointed out that the site for the development 'is at the edge of the city's historic core', close to buildings and areas that are a valued part of Dublin's architectural heritage. The height and bulk of the development, it warned, 'would detrimentally affect the historic precincts of the Custom House, Trinity College and the Liffey Quays'.

The decision has shocked the developer, the Cosgrave Property Group, which had been counting on the dramatic architectural design to win the argument. Local residents and those campaigning against high-rise development were surprised and delighted by the victory.

The ruling comes as specially recruited consultants are about to undertake a skyline study for Dublin Corporation to establish what locations in the city could take high-rise buildings. There will be public consultation in preparing the study, but the George's Quay decision is seen as setting down an important marker for future policy.

The planning board now has to deliver its judgement on an even more controversial high-rise project - a £985 million docklands development which includes a national conference centre and 22 storey office and apartment blocks. The project, designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Kevin Roche, will have buildings 95 metres high - some 40 metres taller than Liberty Hall - and has been criticised by one Dublin councillor as a 'mini- manhattan'.

Dublin Corporation has given approval for a scaled down version of the project. It has stipulated that the size of the 21ha development must be reduced by 25 per cent and the height of the skyscrapers cut to a maximum of 54 metres.

The consortium behind the development claims that the project will not be viable on these terms and is appealing the decision to the planning board. In view of its latest ruling, plus the fact that a skyline study is now under way, it seems unlikely that the board will give the go-ahead for the high-rise element of the plan.

At a recent planning committee meeting, councillors were divided on the merits of the Roche design. A former Dublin lord mayor, Alderman Carmencita Hederman, described it as 'the most exciting development ever proposed for the city', while Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe claimed that 'it looks more like Detroit of the 1960s than Dublin of the 1990s'.

He added: 'It's over-scaled and out of keeping with Dublin's architectural character and civic design. It will dominate the communities around it and turn them into shadowlands.'

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