A simple planning expedient to protect historic urban fabric.

Home Forums Ireland A simple planning expedient to protect historic urban fabric.

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    • #710296

      The proposed destruction of Frawley’s on Thomas Street thread has suggested a simple adjustment to the planning system which I believe could provide long-term protection for the historic urban fabric of the city. I am going to argue that once an area of the city has been identified as deserving protection because of it’s historical and aesthetic value, then without exception or qualification, any application for planning permission would be immediately and summarily rejected if it involves site amalgamation.

      A simple (if radical) policy like this would have many benefits.

      First of all, a policy like this would remove the financial incentive to assemble large sites from a collection of smaller ones. This incentive is created by the simple principles of economies of scale. It destroys any incentive to restore or maintain historic stock on small sites. We may get highly indignant that developers behave in this manner but if the planning system allows it, you cannot realistically expect individuals to forego huge amounts of money because the Georgian Society or An Taisce or whoever complains. The result of this perverse incentive is obvious and plain: increased neglect of the historic urban cores of our towns and cities which in the main have a fine grain. Even if the sites do not immediately become derelict, the process of assembling a larger site generally results in the individual buildings being let on restricted leases meaning that short term retail (call/internet shops, newsagents, pound shops, etc) and cheap and nasty residential dominates. Even if only two or three neighbouring sites are being treated in this way, the rot sets in in and soon infects the rest of the street/area.

      Hopefully the removal of this incentive would encourage the maintenance (if not the restoration) of individual buildings in these areas. It would be commercial madness to allow an existing building (new or old) to fall into dereliction or neglect as the cost of replacement on a small confined site would be significant. Thus market forces would be working to preserve rather than destroy historic urbanism. Currently we hear perverse arguments that some massed development is vital to “breath life” into some crumbling historic area which ignores the fact that the development process in our towns itself is often responsible for creating the neglect which eventually is used to justify the development – a circular and destructive process that unfortunately seems never ending. I’ve realised that it’s pointless to ask “have we not learned anything since the 60s/70s/80s/etc.” when criticising destructive development proposals because the same arguments exist for the other side – the benefits of investment, development, job-creation, reversing neglect, etc – and they continue to triumph. The solution isn’t better debating, improved presentation of arguments or lobbying but in simply changing the rules for development which simply side-steps the this endlessly regurgitated debate.

      Secondly, a stipulation like this removes a large amount of the inevitable subjectivity which is involved in the current process by offering a simple clear rule. For example, had Temple Bar and its’ frontage onto the quays been covered by a policy like this, then the Clarance Hotel proposal would not even gotten off the drawing board and we would have been spared the flawed process where planners or ABP are required to assess the architectural merits of the proposed replacement; architecture criticism is simply too subjective and unreliable to be used as the basis of an important decision on whether to replace a piece of historical street scape, in my opinion.

      Thirdly, and this is personal but I find the outright obliteration of urban grain which results from new buildings on amalgamated sites far more distressing that the replacement of an individual building even if it of historical and aesthetic value. There is nothing left to “read” in a historical/architectural sense from the scene afterwards. Contrast with one of my favourite threads at the moment – the Billy one – where buildings and streets tell a historical story. The argument about the suitability of modern buildings in a historic street scape becomes far less urgent as the damage is localised. I know Temple Bar has been a failure on many levels but, for me, it largely it works very well as a model of how to rejuvenate an old urban quarter; it’s actually a very pleasant area to wander through during the day. When you see the old photos of the area around Christchurch, I am saddened more by the obliteration of an city quarter than by the loss of individual buildings. Even if we had lost practically every building but had maintained the streets and plot/site layouts, then at least it would be possible to connect the past with the present.

      The only subjectivity involved in such a rule would be how to identify which areas deserve such protection. Obviously the entire city cannot be restricted to replicating Roque but I think it would not be that difficult to gain consensus on this issue.

    • #805208

      “I am going to argue that once an area of the city has been identified as deserving protection because of it’s historical and aesthetic value, then without exception or qualification, any application for planning permission would be immediately and summarily rejected if it involves site amalgamation.”

      Surley you realise the danger of such a totalitarian statment of blinkered idealism.

      While I do not entirley disagree nor do I condone ruthless development or destruction of heritage; statments like the one above tend to go too far in the opposite direction, and tend towards the dangerous view of nostialga, that the “character” of an area is a static thing that was finalised sometime around 1920. We cannot nor should not “protect” everything, just because it is old, or that’s the way it was, the character of an area is something that is evolving and requires managment, and, yes that sometimes this involves some dmolition, sometimes it even involves redrawing some lines, while I understand the idea of “grain”, it is effectively putting a iron cage around a plot which is simply too dumb a move and effectively kills morphlogical evolution.
      Secondly the idea of removing “subjectivity” from any issue of architectural or historical heritage is simply a non runner, architectural and historical heritage is subjective by deffinition, again it is redicilous, dangerous and (sorry) stupid to suggest that there could ever be one golden rule by which it should be judged.

    • #805209

      Could I perhaps balance the argument with a existing legal provision?

      Derelict Sites Act.

      If this were properly (savagely!) applied, then the case for landbanking by dereliction would not be economic viable. The derelict levy needs to be increased dramatically.

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