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Cultural spaces can be saved without losing hotels too

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Last Monday night, Dublin City Council convened a special meeting to discuss cultural life and space in Dublin city. This special meeting followed concerns raised by some sectors over the loss of cultural venues in Dublin.

Councillors should be commended for engaging on these important matters. Cultural life and venues make a valuable contribution to the vitality of our urban centres.

What caught my eye, however, was that councillors voted in favour of a motion to restrict the number of hotels that could be constructed in Dublin city. Councillors sought to achieve this restriction through an amendment to the Dublin City Development Plan.

Where had this idea arisen, as it certainly wasn’t from the council’s Planning Department? The head of planning advised that such a restriction was unnecessary and would be difficult to defend against a legal challenge. Those in the hotel sector must be equally confused how they have landed in the councillors’ crosshairs.

It’s important not to conflate the issues surrounding these sectors. The city’s cultural and hospitality offerings both require support from public bodies. Looking at hotels, occupancy rates in Dublin city reached 90.5 per cent in May and rarely dip below 80 per cent throughout the year. Anyone who has booked a hotel in Dublin city centre will know that prices reflect this supply/demand dynamic. Additional rooms are required to meet the growing demand from visitors to the city.

It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of tourists to the city’s cultural offering. While many of us choose to save money mid-week by staying in, tourists venture out each evening to experience the culture and hospitality on offer in the capital.

The availability of this tourist expenditure should be welcomed and channelled towards our cultural offering.

Regarding the councillors’ motion, is it reasonable to say we are delivering too many hotels in Dublin?

Amsterdam brought in restrictions on the construction of new hotels in 2017 because of concerns of over-tourism. Amsterdam has 45,000 hotel rooms and accounts for 50 per cent of all overnight stays in the Netherlands. Dublin by comparison has about 22,000 hotel rooms and there are no fears we are experiencing over-tourism.

Dublin now controls the amount of accommodation that is provided through Airbnb. If a growing number of tourists are not to be accommodated in hotels, where would we like them to stay? We need new hotel accommodation to meet the growth in visits from our American cousins, the more reserved European visitors, and of course, the hen parties from Leeds.

I understand the desire to support our cultural contribution, but should we not direct this energy in more effective ways? Instead of pillorying hotel operators for responding to visitor demand, could we look at what other opportunities there are to create new cultural spaces?

Dublin City Council is the largest owner of sites in its own Vacant Sites Register. It owns more than 25 per cent of the sites that are the subject of a 7 per cent annual levy. You could write a separate opinion piece on the effectiveness of an organisation levying itself to encourage development.

Just think of all the worthwhile uses that could be delivered on these sites instead of having them lie vacant. Residential, cultural, community, assisted living, etc. While the city council is progressing proposals on some of these vacant sites, there is an opportunity to consider whether additional cultural space can be delivered.

The discussions about how public bodies can further support the city’s cultural offering should continue. At the same time, we should be careful not to cause collateral damage to other important sectors of Dublin’s economy such as hotels.

Raymond Tutty is head of planning at Savills Ireland

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