Should Phibsboro Be Low-Rise or High-Rise?

You know the old Phibsboro Shopping Centre? The one with the ugly brutalist concrete tower?

Dublin City Council’s management and its councillors pretty much agree that the shopping centre needs to be torn down and replaced, but they’ve been arguing over whether what replaces it should be taller or shorter than what’s there now.

Should Phibsboro be a high-rise part of the city? Or a low-rise part of the city?

This debate is all part of the process of finalising the new draft Phibsboro Local Area Plan (LAP). It’s out for comment again for the next four weeks. You can make your views heard by contacting your local councillor.

Old Plan, New Plan

This new plan that’s under discussion is replacing an old local area plan for Phibsboro and Mountjoy, which never came to anything.

That 2008 plan contained a grand vision for the area, which included relocating Mountjoy Prison and Dalymount Park. This was to make way for new developments that would have included a new village centre and a boutique hotel, as well as the construction of the new children’s hospital on the Mater Hospital’s campus.

At City Hall on a recent Monday, councillors and city management discussed the details of the new plan. It’s less ambitious.

Instead, Dalymount Park has been purchased by Dublin City Council and is going to stay in Phibsboro and remain Bohemians FC’s home ground. Mountjoy Prison is going to stay put for the time being too; the children’s hospital is planned to be built on the campus of St James’s Hospital across the city.

So what does the new plan do?

It proposes strategies to improve the Phibsboro’s connectivity and transport opportunities. But perhaps the most important thing it does is lay out the rules for any future redevelopment of key sites in the area: notably, the Phibsboro Shopping Centre, just off Doyle’s Corner.

The Shopping Centre’s Future

One thing everyone could agree on is that any future redevelopment of the shopping centre should include the creation of some kind of “civic space”.

Phibsboro residents have long bemoaned the fact that there’s nowhere in the area where they can get together for things like community events and public markets.

So that was added to the local area plan: a “specific objective” requiring that a civic space be included in any proposal for the redevelopment of the shopping centre.

Most present also seemed to agree that, if and when that redevelopment comes, the 1960s-era tower should be torn down.

“The Phibsboro Shopping Centre site is a tired site,” said Deputy City Planning Officer John O’Hara. “It’s not an appropriate-looking site for the centre of a contemporary urban village. It needs an uplift.”

That’s when they got to the question of how tall whatever replaces the tower should be. The draft local area plan they were discussing would have allowed a tower of up to 37 metres in height, about four metres taller than the existing one.

The issue: the draft councillors’ development plan for the city identified the area as a low-rise area, but council management is doubtful that a developer would want to re-do the Phibsboro Shopping Centre site without the temptation of being able to build something really tall.

The Debate

Labour councillor Brendan Carr, with independent councillors Christy Burke and Cieran Perry, introduced a motion to change the local area plan to limit building heights on the site to 28 metres.

“We passed a motion in the Dublin City Development Plan,” said Carr, “that Phibsboro would remain a low-rise area.”

If the local area plan allows a 37-metre-tall building on the site, that will contradict the draft development plan, Carr said.

But Jim Keogan, the council’s assistant chief executive for planning and development, spoke against this. “At 28 metres it’s unlikely that you may get a redevelopment at that site,” he said.

Keogan also pointed out that the draft development plan is still on public display and not yet the law of the land.

“It’s important to realise,” he said, “that we are still saying that Phibsboro is a low-rise area, with the exception of two developments sites: the Mountjoy Prison Site and the Phibsboro [Shopping Centre] site.”

Labour councillor Andrew Montague, unlike other councillors, sees merit in allowing taller buildings on the site.

“My worry about it would be that it’s already a nine-storey building, and if we restrict the potential for redevelopment say to six storeys, whoever owns the building will say ‘Well I’ve got nine stories now, why would I rebuild it?’” he said.

Montague thinks we could be stuck with the old shopping centre building for another 15 to 20 years if there is no incentive to redevelop it. The councillor adds that it is a “pretty shabby building and I don’t think it does justice to Phibsboro, which is a great part of the city.”

Back to You

Despite Keogan’s best efforts, a majority of councillors sided with Carr, Burke and Perry, backing their motion to limit heights at the Phibsboro Shopping Centre Site to 28 meters.

Since this is a fairly major change to the local area plan, it meant the councillors didn’t adopt the plan at their meeting. Instead, they plan to send it back out to consultation for four weeks.

Reimagining Phibsboro, a local community group, welcomed the result of the vote.

“Increased building height is out of keeping with the built environment and will not contribute to the much-needed enhancement of the village,” wrote Ciara Considine in an email, a member of the group and speaking on their behalf.

The group welcomes the added delay, during which it hopes to engage the community and the council in a deeper discussion over the neighbourhood’s future.

“As a campaign, we are currently attempting to get a ‘design review’ off the ground, which would involve workshops with interested parties on how to improve and reimagine the public realm within Phibsborough.

“Following this initial forum, invited architects, urban planners, landscape architects and interested parties would prepare plans, sketches and papers on how to improve the area. This will form the basis of an exhibition, publication and further forum which will hopefully lead to actions that can be implemented.

“We’ve recently met with DCC with a view to involving them in the process, and look forward to hearing back from them soon,” writes Considine.


CORRECTION: This article was corrected on 7 December at 10:08pm. The Phibsboro Local Area Plan will not be sent out for public consultation again, as was the original intention. 

 

Author:

Willy Simon: Willy Simon is Dublin Inquirer's planning and transport reporter.

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