Extraordinarily, nothing has changed under the review of the Special Planning Control Scheme. Aside from a tightening of the language, the SPCS now has LESS rather than more power than before. All references to postering on windows – the greatest scourge on the area – have been deleted. Criteria for the placement and size of internal signage has been deleted. The banning of external loudspeakers has been deleted. Limits on projecting signage and the type of information they can display has also been ditched. This is nothing short of baffling – it’s as if anything that was deemed too much effort to enforce has just been choicely dispensed with! The only improvement is the reduction of the maximum surface area of lettering on first floor windows from 40% to 25%. The list of non-exempt change of uses has also been extended to include mobile phone shop, catalogue shop, discount shop and launderette/dry cleaners.
Likewise, no account has been made of newer forms of advertising such as illuminated projectors, or types of floodlighting units, light displays and light colouring, which can so degrade a building during the day and after dark. Also no criteria for on-street advertising hoardings surrounding seating (which should be banned outright in the city), or indeed any guidelines for seating for that matter. No reference to smoking areas is made, or criteria for ash units and similar paraphernalia at the entrances to buildings. Also no reference to railing structures which are beginning to emerge at roofline level, or flagpoles and similar projections. What on earth was the point of this review at all?
If there is any consolation, all above deleted elements remain in the ACA policy, which does not require a review, so we still have them to cling on to. The new SPAC policy on removing advertising hoardings is hilarious, stating: “Following a review of the area, it is evident that some progress has been made in relation to the removal of poor quality advertising structures. The following advertising signs are now designated for removal
:” Suggesting that a much-reduced ‘revised’ record of advertising structures is now being published, it goes on to list precisely the same array of structures as mentioned in the last plan. Indeed the sole advertisement that was removed over the lifetime of the last plan occurred under tragic circumstances, when a window cleaner fell to his death from above Ann Summers, pulling with him the 1950s Chas F. Ryan
sign that was attached to the upper facade. There isn’t even the faintest whiff of a firm commitment to remove any of the designated signage under the lifetime of the new plan, including the disgraceful Baileys ensemble blighting the image of the entire city, even though the planning authority has sweeping powers under the 2000 Act to get rid of it, and its ilk, first thing in the morning.
A planning authority may serve a notice on each person who is the owner or occupier of a structure situated within its functional area, if—
(a) the structure is a protected structure and, in the opinion of the planning authority, the character of the structure or of any of its elements ought to be restored, or
(b) the structure is in an architectural conservation area and, in the opinion of the planning authority, it is necessary, in order to preserve the character of the area, that the structure be restored.
'Works' include "the removal, alteration or replacement of any specified part of the structure or element, and the removal or alteration of any advertisement structure."
Now, the planning authority must pay for the cost of the works that are reasonably incurred by the owner, in dialogue with them, but this is tiny money relative to the improvement effected. It beggars belief that no effort has been made on this front to date. Even the carrot of standard grant aid alone, perhaps boosted a little to get rid of signage, may be sufficient to get the ball rolling on property. The time of 'market force-led change' is well and truly over - not that it was ever there in the first place - but pro-active measures must now be taken.
And all of this in the context of the newly completed Ulster Bank at 2-4 O'Connell Street Lower. One wouldn't want in any way to detract from the marvellous reinstatement job done on the main 1920s shopfront, but really and truly, is the below type of dead frontage really permissable in an ACA, SPAC, on a Protected Structure, at the entrance to the capital's main street? Effectively a permanently vacant unit. It gives an appalling first impression.
I mean really and truly, are these proposals even looked at? This new shopfront, however fancypants conservation-led, has the same effect on the street as the previous barracks-like ensemble. Indeed the original planning application stipulated that a shop display be maintained at all times, before a new application was granted that allowed for the ATM and screening. This opaque film was merely referenced in passing in the application and not even referenced in the planner's report. And this all in spite of the fact that the bank originally stated that two ATMs would have to be mounted in the granite building next door, in spite of design concerns, as placing one in the window of the shopfront above would be impossible "due to security considerations". Yet when structural issues prevented them from installing one in the shopfront next door, suddenly these 'security considerations' vanished into thin air, and the second ATM was installed as seen above. All that's needed is a dingy net curtain to complement the nasty aluminium window (again why on earth this was granted permission...) and a flickering seedy neon sign inside. A shame. You'd think Ulster Bank would have more style.