Delivering Tall Buildings and Urban Intensification in Ireland

Dublin City Council has recently submitted a proposed amendment to the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock Planning Scheme. This now allows for significantly higher building heights than the original Strategic Development Zone (SDZ). This amendment follows the release of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy’s Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines in December 2018. If approved, and given the housing pressure which Dublin faces, this is a pivotal change. A decision from the Board on the amendment is scheduled for October 2019. SLR is eagerly awaiting this development and, if approved will be watching closely for its impact on housing delivery.

The revised building heights submitted for the SDZ area follow the recent refusal of an application to increase in height on Johnny Ronan’s Salesforce Tower.

However, the devil is in the detail. The amendment is only for 7 of the remaining 20 blocks located within the SDZ, or approximately 35%. Notably, the revised heights remain small even by modern standards – 12-15 stories to create a balanced “gateway” to the Liffey.

With the current discourse regarding the need for increased heights, sustainability, reducing carbon footprints and creating a 24 hour city, it seems unusual that more areas aren’t being considered- in tandem with Minister Murphy’s revised guidelines.

Section 1.4 of the Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines provides an important context to how some Local Authorities have been addressing this issue to date

“in recent years, local authorities, through their statutory development and local area plan processes, have begun to set generic maximum height limits across their functional areas. Frequently, such limits have resulted from local-level concerns, like maintaining the character of an existing built-up area, for example. However, such limits, if inflexibly or unreasonably applied, can undermine wider national policy objectives to provide more compact forms of urban development as outlined in the National Planning Framework and instead continue an unsustainable pattern of development whereby many of our cities and towns continue to grow outwards rather than consolidating and strengthening the existing built up area.”

Land which is developable in the cities of Ireland is scarce, particularly land which is as well situated as the Dublin Docklands area. One or two “landmark” buildings won’t tackle the problem of urban sprawl. If we are truly serious about tackling the issues of urban sprawl, housing need, carbon footprint and sustainability, we need to think beyond 12-15 storeys for a few city blocks and also look at the wider consideration of density which does not necessarily relate to building height.

Local Authorities need to plan in a sustainable manner for our growing population as outlined in Ireland 2040. This predicts the population of Dublin alone will rise by another 1 million people. Combining this figure with the increased investment from multinational companies in the capital, how will this be delivered?

The impact of the Guidelines is likely to be felt beyond Dublin as all planning authorities are required to explicitly identify, through their statutory plans, areas where increased building height will be actively pursued for both redevelopment, regeneration and infill development to secure the objectives of the National Planning Framework and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies.

The development management section of the Guidelines defines strategic planning policy requirement 3 which requires applicants for planning permission to sets out how a development proposal complies with the criteria set out in the Guidelines. The guidelines further state that to support proposals at some or all of these scales, the following specific assessments may be required:

  • Assessment of the micro-climatic effects such as down-draft;
  • Assessment to consider the potential interaction of the building location, building materials and artificial lighting to impact flight lines and / or collision regarding birds and/or bats.
  • An urban design statement including, as appropriate, assessment of impact on the historic built environment.
  • Relevant environmental assessment requirements, including SEA, EIA, AA and Ecological Impact Assessment, as appropriate.

Tall buildings are an important part of any city core, where the population can sustain them. Dublin City Council has recognised a valuable opportunity and has responded in a manner that more local authorities need to do, particularly in areas such as Cork, Galway and Limerick.

SLR takes a multidisciplinary approach to these associated considerations, to deliver planning permission for such development. If you have a project and would like advice, please reach out to SLR. We have offices globally, including right here in Dublin. SLR has the full range of technical disciplines that are experienced in undertaking these specialist assessments. Please contact Aislinn O’Brien, Principal Planner or Crystal Leiker, Senior Planner at our Dublin Office to find out more.


Key Contacts:

Aislinn O’Brien


Crystal Leiker