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Walking over O’Connell Bridge towards O’Connell Street in Dublin’s city centre at night, bright ornate lamps illuminate the footpaths, as pedestrians, cars and the Luas whizz by.
To the right the statue of Daniel O’Connell sits in the middle of the street. To the left on a prominent five-storey building hangs a large red LED screen, displaying an advert for a department store’s summer sale.
Right above this sign, hangs another — a large blue one that spans the width of the building, covering the entire fourth and fifth stories — originally it was an ad for Baileys, in more recent times for Nokia.
Nowadays it reads: “Coleman – Have a Nice Day”.
Some query whether the signs that cover most of the facade at 34 Bachelors Walk work well with the desired aesthetic of the capital’s main thoroughfare.
“The building is a listed building, it’s a protected structure and it’s part of a conservation area,” says Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe, who is also an architect.
Alongside concerns from councillors and public transport bodies regarding the suitability of these signs in the area, council documents also reveal further issues.
The owner of the red LED sign does not have planning permission for it. It is not clear how long that sign has been in use.
34 Bachelors Walk
Last March, Declan Coleman applied for planning permission to convert the smaller red LED sign on 34 Bachelors Walk so as to display a variety of advertisements changing every 10 seconds.
Shortly after he submitted that application Dublin City Council initiated enforcement proceedings, which means it is telling him that the sign does not have permission and should be taken down.
The large blue sign that spans the width of the building has been an advertising space for decades. It was granted permission in 1984, according to the planner’s report.
34 Bachelors Walk is on the record of protected structures in Dublin.
Originally built in the early 1800s, it was later rebuilt in the early 20th century, says the conservation report on the planning file.
“The current appearance of the building dates from the turn of the century with cement-rendered façade details but retains the fenestration pattern of an earlier building,” writes Niamh Kiernan, an architectural conservation officer at Dublin City Council in the report.
But, Kiernan notes, the “discretely detailed building” is now “largely covered in billboards.”
According to an article in the Irish Times, 34 Bachelors Walk, and the adjoining building, 56 Lower O’Connell Street , were occupied by rebels during the 1916 rising.
Declan Coleman didn’t respond to queries by phone in time for publication.
Dublin City Council has refused several planning applications for signage at 34 Bachelors Walk.
In 1996, David Allen Holdings Ltd applied for planning permission to erect a replacement advertising structure instead of the Nokia sign, according to the planning file.
The council refused and that decision was appealed to An Bord Pleanála, which issued a split decision in 1997 . This allowed for the partial retention of the Nokia sign but only until the year 2000, says the planners report.
In 2013, both the council and An Bord Pleanála refused permission for plans to replace the existing signage at 34 Bachelors Walk with an LED sign (10.5m high and 5.3m wide) at the corner of the building, which would have spanned the first, second, third and fourth floors.
An Bord Pleanála said that the development would be contrary to the sustainable development of the area.
In 2015, both the council and An Bord Pleanála refused another application, to replace the existing signs again, but this time with a smaller sign, citing similar reasons.
In his latest March 2020 application, Coleman said he was willing to take down the old Nokia sign if he got permission to convert the smaller sign, to display the alternating adverts.
But Coleman should have applied for planning retention, says the planner’s report, because he doesn’t have any planning permission for the red LED sign. “It is noted that enforcement action is in effect against the existing LED advertising sign,” says the planner’s report.
Kiernan, the conservation architect said in the conservation report , on the planning file that the proposed development “would have an adverse visual impact on and would seriously detract from and injure the special architectural character and legibility” of both the building itself and other neighbouring protected structures.
She also said the development would go against the O’Connell Street Architectural Conservation Area and the Dublin City Council Development Plan 2016 – 2022.
Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) submitted an observation querying whether flashing advertisements on O’Connell Bridge could interfere with the view of the Luas drivers.
“Insufficient information has been submitted with the planning application to demonstrate that the proposed development will not have a detrimental impact on the capacity, safety or operational efficiency of the light rail network,” says the TII submission.
Tram drivers have to pick signals from long distances while also watching out for city traffic, pedestrians and cyclists and it is difficult to do that “if the tram drivers view is cluttered”, says the submission.
“In areas parallel to the tram line light emitting or reflecting structures should not be erected which interfere with the views or visibility of the tram driver in the interests of public safety,” it says.
Enforcement Notice Issued
Dublin City Council is currently investigating the issue and is taking enforcement action in relation to 34 Bachelors Walk, according to email correspondence from a council planning enforcement officer to Cuffe.
An enforcement notice was issued for the removal of the sign on 19 March 2020 and that notice expired on 17 June 2020, says the email.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says: “This matter is the subject to a live enforcement file, therefore we cannot make any further comment on the matter at this time.”
Cuffe says that planning enforcement is a slow process and the council’s next step is probably to issue a warning letter if the sign doesn’t come down.
The future of the larger sign, which was granted permission in 1984 will still have to be negotiated too, says Cuffe.
Usually if a company or an individual has permission for a sign, they retain that permission going forward, he says.
“Clearly if you own the building, or you own the sign, you don’t want to give up on the right you have acquired historically,” he says.
So he says he thinks that the council should offer to do a deal with the owners. Perhaps allow them to install an LED sign somewhere else, like on a main road, in exchange for taking down the ones on protected buildings and in conservation areas.
“I think the city council needs to be a bit more imaginative in dealing with these companies,” says Cuffe.