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After Ronan Breaks Height Impasse, Dublin Could Become A Higher-Rise City

Developer Johnny Ronan has been beating the drum for taller buildings in Dublin as a partial solution to the city's housing crisis. So it seems appropriate that it was his company that could finally have opened up the potential for Dublin to become a higher-rise city.

Planners have consistently prevented him from getting his high-rise plans off the ground. But late last year, Ronan Group received the green light to submit a planning application for a 17-storey office tower, which looks like a breakthrough that could transform Dublin’s North Docklands and the wider city. 

With another city centre mixed-use tower set to reach practical completion this year, others are pushing to unlock the potential of going vertical, particularly in the residential world. But plenty of obstacles remain. 

Dublin's tallest: Capital Dock is a 22-storey, 259-foot-tall mixed-use development in the Docklands.

The proposed Ronan Group structure would replace an eight-storey office building at 1 North Wall Quay that is occupied by U.S. bank Citigroup. It is part of a development that would include four buildings ranging in height from nine to 17 storeys.

Dublin City Council had previously lodged an appeal against height increases for two Docklands apartment blocks Ronan proposed, but the Supreme Court refused to entertain that appeal in June 2023. 

Confirmation on 9 February of the refusal by the Supreme Court to allow the council to further appeal proposed height increases cleared the way for Ronan to submit its office proposals.

“Waterfront South Central at North Wall Quay will go ahead and add more height to the skyline,” CBRE Ireland Director and Head of Research Colin Richardson said. “Obviously, it is located in the Docklands Special Development Zone, so there is an exception for higher-rise development in that location anyway. The EXO building is located immediately adjacent also, along with Capital Dock across the river.” 

Beyond the Docklands, there are some taller buildings under construction or proposed. Richardson pointed to the 21-storey College Square building, which is close to reaching practical completion on Tara Street in a development by Marlet Property Group. The scheme will include 540K SF of Grade A office space, 54 apartments and 18K SF of retail.

Ronan’s Aqua Vetro, also on Tara Street, has planning permission and would be slightly taller at 23 storeys. But it appears increasingly likely that this will be delayed amid a legal issue between the developer and the location’s owner, public transport provider CIE Group, with the latter seeking to reclaim the site.

In an interview with The Financial Times last year, Ronan said higher-rise, higher-density development policy would enable more residential space to be developed, notably outside the city centre, yet has fallen foul of planners.

“If they keep going on like that, the housing crisis will never be resolved. With reasonable density, you can still deliver a huge amount of housing,” Ronan said.

At Ronan's Waterfront South Central, the proposed apartment buildings were to have seven floors each, but planning authority An Bord Pleanála allowed Spencer Place Development Company to increase these to 11 and 13 storeys, respectively, as part of a 500-unit residential development.

The local authority responded by bringing legal proceedings on the grounds that An Bord Pleanála had no power to approve these height increases and had contravened the council’s North Lotts/Grand Canal strategic development zone planning scheme.

In November, it was reported that planners would consider a 25-storey Ronan Group apartment tower after setting new height guidelines for the north Dublin Docklands that could clear the way for construction of the city’s tallest building near the former Point Depot.

Ronan applied in 2021 to An Bord Pleanála to build a 45-storey apartment block on the Waterfront South Central site at North Wall Quay but was refused permission.

The proposed residential site is west of the 3Arena concert venue in the Point complex, next door to the offices being built for the new Citibank Dublin headquarters.

However, if Dublin’s planners finally permit taller buildings, it is more likely they will be for residential use, with new office development all but stalled. 

Total real estate investment volumes fell to their lowest level since the tail end of the Global Financial Crisis, according to the latest statistics from BNP Paribas Real Estate, which revealed that transactions totaled €161.7M across the market in the first quarter.

That is the lowest level since 2013 and just 15% of the 10-year quarterly average of more than €1B. At €4.4M, the sale of Athlumney House in Navan, County Meath, to a private Irish investor was the most valuable office investment completed to date this year. 

The next building to make a mark on Dublin’s skyline is likely to be at Castleforbes. TIAA, Eagle Street and Australian superannuation fund HESTA, advised by Nuveen Real Estate, are developing a nine-block build-to-rent scheme at Castleforbes Business Park in the North Docklands. The development is due to practically complete the first phase in Q3 2025 and will include an 18-storey residential tower that will be around 220 feet tall.

“I think there are more pressing issues around Dublin commercial property at this moment,” Richardson said. “The living sectors will become more prevalent in the centre of the city, so high-rise apartments will be the most applicable new development to focus on.

“New commercial development with an office element will be few and far between in the next few years, if they are not already under construction.”

Dublin's North Docklands is at the centre of the push for taller buildings.

Dublin’s 6 Tallest Buildings

1. Capital Dock is a 22-storey, 259-foot-tall mixed-use development at the junction of Sir John Rogerson's Quay and Britain Quay in the Docklands. Developed by Kennedy Wilson, the site was acquired in 2012, and construction was completed in 2018 in a joint venture with the National Asset Management Agency on the site of the previously proposed U2 Tower. 

2. The EXO Building is a 17-storey, 226-foot-tall office building at the corner of North Wall Quay and East Wall Road in Dublin. The building is adjacent to the 3Arena by the River Liffey and Dublin Port. State-owned An Post signed a lease in 2021 to become the anchor tenant of the building, and Yahoo took space last year.

3. The now-renamed Montevetro Building, completed in 2010 and for some years the tallest commercial building in Dublin, stands at a height of 220 feet. It sold to Google in January 2011 for €100M and was subsequently renamed Google Docks.

4. The tallest residential building in Dublin upon completion, Millennium Tower at Charlotte Quay is a 207-foot apartment building located on the Grand Canal Dock outer basin.

5. Liberty Hall is the headquarters of the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union. It was completed in 1965, is 195 feet high and was the tallest building in Ireland before the construction of County Hall in Cork.

6. George's Quay Plaza on the southern bank of the River Liffey is between Burgh Quay and Hawkins Street to the west and City Quay and Talbot Memorial Bridge to the east. Completed in 2002, at its highest it is 194 feet and was designed by KMD Architecture. Its tenants include Ulster Bank.