The Player Wills building stands prominently above rows of residential houses on the South Circular Road.
Its beige-brick facade remains from the site’s cigarette-factory days. There are large windows and industrial-concrete overhangs.
A large clock on the building remains intact, though its arms no longer sweep around in circles. Its design is reminiscent of a time long gone.
Now, all that remains of some windows are single shards of glass that hang from their frames. Others are boarded up with plywood since the factory closed in 2006.
“I am quite concerned about the development of the building,” says Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan. “The building will be developed and it might not be protected.”
On 15 April, An Bord Pleanála is due to decide on a plan to build 492 apartments and 240 co-living beds on the site.
In the meantime, area councillors still hope to get Player Wills on the record of protected structures in an attempt, they say, to preserve the building.
It’s a measure that they have been pushing for for more than two years, and one which council officials have not, so far, backed.
Plans for Change
International real estate investors Hines plan to develop the site into a big complex, with blocks of up to 19-storeys.
“The council negotiated with the private developer Hines and were satisfied with their commitments to protecting the building,” says Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty.
But Dublin City Council should have actually put the Player Wills site on the record for protected structures, he says.
This record lists buildings that are of historical, architectural and cultural importance.
Owners of protected structures have to make sure they aren’t damaged or neglected, and have to apply for planning permission to carry out works that would change a building’s character.
“There was in and around the canals in Dublin bits of industry but we were primarily an agricultural country,” says Moynihan, the Labour senator.
Jacobs Factor and Bolands Mill, once significant landmarks of industrial Dublin, are no longer with us, Moynihan says.
“[Player Wills] is socially important because it is one of the very very few buildings that we still have of the heavy industry,” she says.
Moynihan says the planned designs infringe on the original structure of the building. Planned changes like knocking down an extension to the Player Wills factory, which was made later than the original building, Moynihan says.
The outside of the original building would be altered by adding two storeys, Moynihan says.
But “my big concern is the internal aspect of Player Wills”, she says.
“There is no point in keeping the brick facade if they get rid of the gorgeous internal staircases,” Moynihan says.
Hines did not respond to questions about whether its plans infringe on the original building.
Waiting a While
Moynihan first asked for the building to be put on the record of protected structures in November 2018.
Following this the then Minister for Culture and Heritage Josepha Madigan, wrote to Dublin City Council asking for the building to be put on this list, according to Moynihan.
In November 2020, Moriarty – who replaced Moynihan on the council – put down a motion to “immediately” mandate the council to start adding the building to the record of protected structures.
It was co-signed by other area councillors – Sinn Féin’s Máire Devine, People Before Profit’s Tina MacVeigh, the Green Party’s Michael Pidgeon and Fianna Fáil’s Michael Watters.
Despite this, the council has not yet made the Players Wills building a protected structure, says Moriarty.
Moynihan contrasts the length of time since her motion to add the Player Wills building, with the speed at which the De La Salle building in Ballyfermot was added to the list.
“That had been done and dusted within a year in terms of it being put onto the record,” she said.
It looks to her as if a decision was taken to put De La Salle on, and not to put on Player Wills, says Moynihan.
“It’s a building of both architectural significance, but also societal significance,” she says, of the Player Wills site. “It’s one of the few industrial-era buildings in Dublin left.”
Who Gets to Start it?
There is disagreement between some councillors and officials over powers and process for making a building a protected structure.
Officials agree that councillors get the final vote on adding one or not to the list.
At issue, though, is who has the power to start the lengthy process of inspection, research and consultation that is legally needed before councillors vote.
Council officials sent Moriarty a legal opinion saying that it is their responsibility to initiate the process, and not that of councillors, says Moriarty.
But “we have legal advice in the Labour party. Our legal brain in the Oireachtas said this is open to interpretation,” Moriarty says.
A spokesperson for the council said that a report on the proposed addition of the Player Wills site to the record of protected structures will go before the South Central Area Committee on 17 February.
Moriarty said that the council began the process for seeing if the Player Wills site should go on the register for protected structures by doing a conservation report – a step he learnt of on 16 December.
That was the same day Hines submitted its planning application to An Bord Pleanála, Moriarty says.
He says he is now trying to work out what counts legally as starting the process of adding a building to the protected structures list – a motion say or a council announcement – and how that may relate to Hines’ planning application.