An Bord Pleanála INSPECTORS REPORT on Union Café Appeal PL06D.247083

The following are excerpts from the Inspectors report. If you wish to read the full 48 page report you can find it on this link:

6.0 Grounds of Appeal

  1. Housing policy and density

 The strong objection from the local community regarding density is noted but it is considered that the proposed density is in line with the policy framework for the area which encourages best use of zoned and serviced lands to create a more compact urban form. 6.3 Third party observations on grounds of appeal 6.3.1   157 observations were received from third parties.

6.3.2 There were a number of observations from public representatives, namely: – Shane Ross TD Minister for Transport (Observer no. 157)

 Josepha Madigan TD (Observer No. 37)

 Councillor Barry Saul (Observer No. 109)

Councillor Deirdre Donnelly (Observer No. 149)

. 6.3.3 There were a number of groups or bodies representing specific interests including: – Mount Merrion Residents Association (Observer No. 156) – see 6.3.4 below.

 Rise Traders (Observer 04) – representing several retailers in the local area RGDATA (Observer No. 94)

 Donal King (Traffic Engineer) – included traffic survey commissioned by local community carried out by NDC (Observer No. 08)

 T.A. McKenna (Engineer) – Traffic analysis (Observer No. 05)

Scoil Treasa Parents’ Association (Observer No. 135)

 6.3.4 Mount Merrion Residents Association, which it is stated has 850 members and was established in 1935, strongly disputed the appellant’s claims that there was any meaningful consultation with the local community. It was further claimed that the applicant made minor alterations following the initial meeting, and claimed that no effort was made to resolve the concerns raised at the first meeting. This observer enclosed an independently commissioned architectural report/urban design study by Scott Tallon Walker and a Traffic Impact Assessment by Dr. Martin Rogers.

7.0 Assessment

7.1 The main issues arising from this appeal are considered to be as follows: • Principle of development and zoning, including retail impact and housing provision • Design and scale of development, including height and scale, visual impact, urban design and impact on designated views/protected structures • Traffic impact, road safety and adequacy of parking • Construction impacts • Infrastructural capacity – water and drainage • Other issues – precedent, cumulative impact, land ownership and consultation • Appropriate assessment I would agree with the observers, therefore, that Mount Merrion is very well served by a number of substantial shopping centres and by a wide range of convenience food stores. I would also accept that the convenience retail sector is under-represented in the neighbourhood centre itself, with less than 100sq.m. and that there is scope for a supermarket/convenience food store. The consistent advice in the policy guidance is, therefore, that neighbourhood centres are intended to provide a diverse range of small scale retail outlets/services which are aimed at serving the local community and should be convenient and easily accessible to that community. By extension, the introduction of additional retail floor space, which would rely on or attract custom from outside the community, would be at odds with the fundamental notion of creating a community focus and providing a local convenient service. Thus, it is considered that it is a fine balancing act to achieve the appropriate mix, nature, type and scale of uses. In an area, such as Mount Merrion, which is within easy reach of so many shopping centres, this is further complicated by the need to ensure that any new retail floor space does not undermine the viability of the higher order shopping centres within the overall area. Thus, it is considered that defining the catchment is key, as is the size and nature of the retail offering. I would agree with the Mount Merrion Residents Association that the catchment area relied upon in the RIA is too wide and hence distorts the figures. It is based on the proposal to offer a “particular range of artisan produce with deli and café area”. This factor, together with the proximity of a substantial retail offering in nearby higher order centres, casts doubt on the appropriateness of the size of the larger unit proposed. Reliance on a walkable catchment area, which has not increased to any significant degree in terms of population, seems unrealistic. The strong sense of community that exists in the area is strongly reflected in the considerable number of observations on the appeal received by the Board. This appears to be focused on the existing shops in the neighbourhood centre together with the wider range of uses including the church, the school, the community centre, the park, the pub, the café/restaurant as well as the shops and retail PL06D.247083 An Bord Pleanála Page 28 of 46 services. Thus, the nature, extent and mix of uses, particularly the level of retail floor space proposed, is not adequately justified. Considering the foregoing, it is considered that the size (1,300m²) and nature of the large retail unit, together with the fact that it is underground and served by a large underground car park, is likely to draw much of its custom from outside the local community. Furthermore, a deli type of retail offer would attract shoppers from a much wider catchment that a more mainstream outlet. Notwithstanding this, it would be difficult to control the type of retailer that would operate from the centre, beyond stipulating convenience floor space. Thus, notwithstanding the conclusions of the Retail Impact Assessment, it is considered that the proposed development is inconsistent with the role and function of a Neighbourhood Centre and would be likely to undermine the viability and vitality of neighbouring higher order centres in the adjoining suburbs. The proposed development would, therefore, be inconsistent with the Retail Planning Guidelines, the Retail Strategy for the GDA and with the policies contained in the Development Plan for the area. 7.2.3 Residential and non-retail uses The CDP seeks to maximise the use of serviced and zoned lands and to consolidate development in the form of sustainable higher densities which would more readily support integrated transport systems. The CDP accordingly places a minimum housing density of 50 units/ha. The application of this standard would result in 22 no. units on the appeal site. However, it is stated that this density standard may be constrained by factors such as infrastructural deficiencies and/or need to protect character and setting of Protected Structures. In this instance, the capacity of the roads adjoining and leading to the site is restricted by sub-standard road widths and traffic calming measures. The proposed development is also directly adjacent to a Protected Structure, Stansted. It is noted, however, that the Board’s decision on the Flanagan’s site (245755) provided for a density of 143 units/ha. It is considered, therefore, that the proposed density of 105 units/ha, is generally acceptable in principle, subject to compliance with other policy objectives and good planning and urban design practice. As a result, the site occupies a very prominent position at the junction, but is also overlooked from important local landmarks. The Urban Design Study by Scott Tallon Walker, (submitted by Mount Merrion Residents Association), identified this junction as a “point of arrival”. The high level of visibility together with the sloping gradient and low density suburban character of the surrounding development are identified by STW as being among the many site constraints in urban design terms. I would generally agree with this analysis and consider that the development of the site should respect the scale and character of the established development in the vicinity.

However, it is the density, scale, height and form of the development which has raised so many objections to the submitted proposal.

 7.3.2 Urban design It is considered that the manner in which the proposed development addresses the adjoining streets and surrounding development results in a poor quality urban design. It is considered that the provision of three separate access points to underground parking/servicing areas also detracts from the public realm, as pedestrians are likely to avoid the existing public footpaths around the perimeter of the site, which are critical to the cohesiveness of the neighbourhood centre. The diverse range of services/uses are located on both sides of North Avenue and of Deerpark Road, which necessitates ease and safety of pedestrian movement between these elements. It is considered, therefore, that the public realm is not sufficiently enhanced by the proposed development. The relationship between the building and the surrounding development is also considered to be very poor as it fails to respect the difference in scale at the interface. Rather than utilising the falling ground levels by graduating the building height so that it is lower in close proximity to the residential properties, the developer uses the differential levels to maximise the building height. This factor, together with the extension of the footprint to the extremities of the boundaries and to the failure to provide appropriate active frontages at street level, combine to create an inward-looking development which relates very poorly to its receiving environment. The North Avenue frontage is problematic as the active frontage comprises windows to a gym, an entrance door to the underground supermarket and a further car park entrance, with the retail elements located at levels above or below street level.

 7.3.3 Scale of development

 It should also be noted that the gross floor area of the proposed development (15,800m²) is approx. ten times the existing floor area on the Kiely’s site and would be three times that permitted at Flanagan’s. It is considered that given the poor quality of the existing development and the inefficient use of the site, with large areas of tarmac/surface parking, a substantial increase in the volume of building is acceptable in principle. The proposal to introduce three subterranean floors, one of which is partially above ground, is likely to negate the efforts to reduce the mass and bulk, as this necessitates the use of a podium design. Rather than taper the height by graduating the building in line with the sloping gradient, it is considered that the podium design exacerbates the difference in scale between the proposed building and the surrounding low rise development. The height, mass and bulk of the building is largely unrelieved on Deerpark Road, notwithstanding the central recess, and would appear monolithic. At its eastern end, where it cantilevers over the open space, it is visually obtrusive and would dominate the townscape and views within the area. The designated views from Deerpark would be adversely affected, as would views to and from the church, a local landmark. It would also appear incongruous and visually jarring when viewed from the Protected Structure, Stansted, and is likely to adversely affect its setting. I would agree with the Area Planner’s assessment that the proposed development is unlikely to result in any significant loss of residential amenity by reason of overlooking or overshadowing, due to the distances from neighbouring residential properties and intervening screening. The Area Planner considered that the proposed development did not qualify for upward modifiers, (apart from proximity to the QBC), as, unlike Flanagan’s, it does not have a higher building on the site currently and the topography is significantly different to Flanagan’s. It was further considered that the development would not qualify for the other upward modifiers. I would agree with this view.

7.4.1 Traffic impact The TIA has been a source of considerable concern to residents as it was considered that the traffic impact assessment is unreliable. It is clear from the submissions and my site inspections that the road network, which was originally designed to serve a local residential population, is under severe pressure from traffic travelling to/from the area with strong generators such as the pub/restaurant, the park and the church, and is also suffering from very high levels of through traffic due to its proximity to the N11 and to a number of high generators such as primary and secondary schools and UCD. The roads are generally narrow and tree lined and the traffic calming, which includes extensive use of chicanes, pedestrian islands, mini-roundabouts and ramps, creates significant pinch-points on the road network, often reducing carriageways to single lanes. It is considered that the introduction of significant additional traffic to this road network would result in an adverse impact on the carrying capacity and proper functioning of these residential roads, which would in turn, affect the residential amenity of the area and pedestrian safety. I would also agree that the cumulative impact of the additional traffic introduced to the area by reason of the recently granted permission for mixed use on the adjoining site at Flanagan’s, as well as other developments which are ongoing in the wider area, would exacerbate the situation further. Many of the submissions from observers expressed concern that the traffic impact assessment did not include the impact of service vehicles and that it is impossible to assess the likely impact on road users, traffic safety and on residential amenity without such information. I would agree that this issue has not been adequately addressed and casts further doubt on the veracity of the TIA conclusions. There is no waste management plan. Several observers have raised the issue of bin collection from the residential bin store on Level -2 and on what impact the waste management of the commercial element will have on the surrounding road network. I would agree that this issue needs to be addressed.

7.4.3 Car parking The Neighbourhood Centre is currently served by on-street parking and by two large off-street car parks, one serving the church/school/community centre and the other on the appeal site. Notwithstanding this, the streets, and Deerpark Road in particular, experience significant parking congestion and illegal parking, as can be seen from the photographs of my site inspection. This appears to be generated principally by customers visiting the local shops, as well as Flanagan’s Furniture Store, (which had re-opened at the time of my visit), the car dealership, the park and parts of the appeal site. The location of a loading bay on Deer Park Road would further reduce the available on-street parking spaces and would be hazardous in such proximity to the roundabout junction, the proposed pedestrian crossing and to the residential car park entrance.

Land ownership

The P.A. and the observers have raised concerns regarding land ownership issues. These principally relate to the grass strip on Wilson Road, which is proposed to be absorbed into the development, and to the proposal to create a vehicular crossing on North Avenue together with the relocation of the public footpath behind the proposed landscaping along the roadside edge. The appellant has provided some documentary evidence to show that there is adequate legal interest to pursue these proposals on Wilson Road. It is considered, however, that the onus is on the applicant to ensure that sufficient legal interest exists to be in a position to implement any planning permission. I would refer the Board to Section 34(13) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) which states that “a person shall not be entitled solely by reason of a permission under this section to carry out any development”.

7.7.2 Precedent Several observers raised the issue of the creation of a precedent by granting permission for the development as proposed. It is considered, however, that each case must be considered on its merits in terms of how it relates to the site conditions and complies with the policy guidance in place. Notwithstanding this, it is normal practice to take into account permissions for recent developments in an area. Given the location of the site within a Neighbourhood Centre, of which there are several in the district, it is considered that a permission for a development such as that proposed could have implications for further developments in wider area in the future.  

Cumulative impact

Many observers raised the issue of cumulative impact with, firstly, the permission on the Flanagan’s site, and secondly, with other recent permissions for development in the overall area. The submissions from both the appellant and the observers have raised the issue of pre-application consultation with the local community. It is noted that there were in excess of 300 submissions made to the planning authority and that a further 157 submissions made as observations on the grounds of appeal. However, as this form of consultation is not a statutory requirement, it is considered that this is a matter between the applicant and the local community.

  1. Recommendation

8.1 I recommend that planning permission should be refused for the reasons and considerations as set out below.


  1. Having regard to
  • the Retail Planning Guidelines (2012), to the Retail Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (2008) and to the policies contained in the current Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Development Plan 2016-2022;
  • the proximity of the site to the Level 2 Town Centres at Dun Laoghaire and Dundrum and to the Level 3 District Centres at Stillorgan and Blackrock, and to the extensive range of convenience retail floor space in the vicinity of the site;
  • to the designation of the site as a Level 4 Neighbourhood Centre in the Retail Hierarchy, which is defined in the Retail Planning Guidelines as comprising a range of mixed use development incorporating small scale retail floor space serving a small, localised catchment by sustainable forms of transport; and
  • to the scale of the convenience retail floor space proposed; the Board is not satisfied on the basis of the submissions made in connection with the planning application and appeal that the proposed development would not lead to over-provision of retail facilities sufficient to undermine the viability of existing businesses in the area. The proposed development would, therefore, be inconsistent with the role and function of a Neighbourhood Centre, would be contrary to the retail policies contained in the current Development Plan for the area and to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area. PL06D.247083 An Bord Pleanála Page 45 of 46
  1. Having regard to
  • the location of the site in a visually prominent position in the established Neighbourhood Centre, which is at the heart of a low density, low rise residential suburb with an attractive and cohesive character;
  • the topography of the site and surrounding area with varying ground levels;
  • the views available to, from and through the site of a Protected Structure and other prominent buildings and towards Dublin City and Bay, a view which is designated for protection in the current Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Development Plan, it is considered that the proposed development, by reason of its scale, height, mass, bulk and form, its podium design and elevational treatment with an absence of animated frontages at street level, and the provision of three separate vehicular access points, fails to respect the scale and character of the established development in the vicinity or to create attractive streets which address the surrounding streets.

 The proposed development would, therefore, result in overdevelopment of the site, would relate poorly to its receiving environment which would seriously injure the visual amenities of the area and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

  1. The Board is not satisfied, on the basis of the submissions made in connection with the planning application and appeal, that there is sufficient capacity within the surrounding road network to accommodate the additional traffic generated by the proposed development. Furthermore, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that the proposed layout and access arrangements would ensure PL06D.247083 An Bord Pleanála Page 46 of 46 the safety of all road users in the vicinity of the site or that adequate levels of car parking have been provided within the curtilage of the site. The proposed development would, therefore, result in on-street parking and generate traffic turning movements that would tend to create serious traffic congestion, and would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard. Mary Kennelly Senior Planning Inspector 25th November 2016