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Plan for Dublin’s tallest building on City Arts Centre site rejected by An Bord Pleanála

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The developer behind a bid to build Dublin’s tallest building on the site of the former City Arts Centre at City Quay has suffered a further setback after An Bord Pleanála ruled against its appeal of Dublin City Council’s rejection of its plan.

Ventaway, a company headed up by David Kennan and Winthrop engineering group founder Barry English, is seeking to develop a 24-storey (108m/354.33ft) structure on the site, which has lain dormant for nearly two decades.

The proposed scheme would be office-led with 22,587sq m of office space over 23 of its floors, along with 1,404sq m of artist studios and exhibition space distributed across the front of the building at its lower-ground, ground and first-floor levels.

Ventaway brought its appeal to An Bord Pleanála 18 months ago after its plan was rejected by the council’s planners in October 2022.

While An Bord Pleanála’s inspector recommended Ventaway be given permission to proceed with the development, the board did not accept that recommendation, saying they did not agree that the building’s “overall visual contribution to Dublin city’s skyscape would be positive and that there would be no harm to the setting and/or character of heritage assets in the area, and particularly the Custom House”.

The board said that the scale, bulk and height of the proposed development would “seriously detract from the setting and character of the Custom House and environs” and would “stand apart as an overly assertive solo building which would not form part of a coherent cluster”.

Commenting on Ventaway’s proposal to provide studio and exhibition space for artists within the building, the board said it considered the delivery of planning gain to the community not to have been sufficiently demonstrated given the limited upgrades to the public realm and the limited amount of cultural space proposed”.

The board’s ruling on the building’s scale, bulk and height comes despite the developer’s contention that the river Liffey “provides a favourable context for taller buildings given that it is a wide-open space corridor, and its banks are a key mobility corridor within the city”. This, it said, would be “consistent” with the Urban Development and Building Guidelines, which allow for additional height in developments to be considered along the edge of large open spaces and thoroughfares such as the Liffey corridor.

Addressing concerns expressed by Dublin City Council’s planners that the City Arts Centre scheme would detract from the Custom House, Ventaway argued that the site is at “the centre of a particularly diverse character area, in which there is no uniformity in development era, building typology, form, scale or architecture”.

They added: “Many of the developments were forerunners and strong architectural expressions of their type and time, for example the Custom House itself, Busáras, Liberty Hall, IFSC, George’s Quay Plaza, AquaVetro and College Square. The proposed development is a natural progression and could take its place comfortably (albeit prominently) in this character area.”

Ventaway added in its submission to An Bord Pleanála that its proposal for the site should be considered on the basis of the benefits its development would bring to the city.

As part of its appeal, the developer pointed to a report drawn up on its behalf by KPMG Future Analytics, a specialist economics and planning consultancy, which suggested that “direct spending from construction and the supply chain” would contribute some €232 million to national economic output.

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