Hotel threat to Dublin heritage

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The Independent Online
The fate of Dublin's most architecturally important district hangs in the balance pending a decision of the Irish High Court on the construction of Ireland's first Hilton Hotel.

Ten heritage buildings, on College Green in the heart of historic Dublin, will be replaced by the international hotel chain's latest project if conservationists fail to overturn the decision granting planning permission for the proposed development.

The court battle began in February and costs are already running at over pounds 750,000. But even if the conservationists win, the Irish planning authorities could still grant permission for the scheme again.

This is the latest in a long line of assaults on listed buildings in Dublin, a city which has already seen the destruction of many Georgian edifices.

In the 1950s Dublin was praised as one of Europe's most architecturally intact cities. Since then neglect and poor planning decisions have destroyed much of its architectural integrity, with demand for apartments, hotels and office blocks rising thanks to Ireland's burgeoning economy.

"Dublin is becoming unrecognisable and drastic action needs to be taken before it is too late," adds Sara Dillon, an environmental law lecturer at University College, Dublin.

The National Art Gallery's controversial proposal to demolish an historic Georgian home whose mews contain Dublin's last private Georgian ballroom is also alarming conservationists. Even the gallery's own expert conceded that it was "perhaps unique", says conservation group Lancefort. "The gallery's architects weren't even instructed to incorporate it in to their plans."

The gallery's director, Raymond Keaveney, was at pains to point out that while this was the true the gallery has wrestled long and hard with its conscience. "We are not architectural Luddites," he said. "Civilisation is a living thing, not a fossil."

Unlike the UK, listed buildings enjoy no statutory protection in Ireland and are governed by the same planning principles as unlisted buildings.

Although the government encourages new development with tax incentives, there is no equivalent treatment for restoration of old buildings.

Should the Dail, the Irish parliament, put listing on a statutory footing, pressure on the lobbyists would be eased, but the new government has to date made no such commitment. In the meantime, Ireland's environmental crusaders struggle to monitor the hundreds of planning applications which are submitted each week in Dublin.

"The irony is that after the boom they will realise that they are trying to attract tourists to an historic city which will no longer exists," said Michael Smith, chairman of the Dublin City Association of An Taisce, Ireland's National Trust.