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Threat to O’Connell Street Heritage

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Dublin Central and O'Connell Street:

On June 2021, the Moore St. – Parnell St. – O’ Connell Street office and retail development (‘Dublin Central’) was re-submitted to Dublin city council, with planning permission granted on the 12th January 2022. It is a shrivelled version of the bloated 2010 complex whose atrium would have projected fifty metres above Henry Street. The new proposal omits the massive shopping complex, instead this is replaced by a massive office complex and bars, with a tiny number of apartments – fifty-seven in total. The soaring bubble of the Celtic Tiger era is replaced by a banal and oppressive office complex projecting onto O’Connell Street, permanently altering the streetscape by opening up a street/square running towards a rebuilt Moore Street, exiting onto the Moore Street wing of the Ilac Centre.

Protected Structures on O’Connell St:

There are several buildings in O' Connell St. slated for demolition (with façade retention) as part of the ‘Dublin Central’ scheme which is centred around the Carlton Cinema site. It should be noted that most of these buildings are in mostly good to excellent condition, apart from the Carlton, (which is not in a ruinous condition), repairs could easily be made to the Carlton.

Most of these outstanding pieces of Dublin’s unique architectural history are slated for demolition, with facades retention as part of this retail and office development.

This is simply complete destruction of these buildings, stretching back as they do from the 18th century, to the rebuilding after the war of independence, to the art deco architecture of the 1920’s to 1930’s. The 1916-22 street buildings are outstanding buildings, and constitute not merely fine facades of cut stone and red and brown brick, but Portland stone on O’Connell Street. The Upper O’Connell Street terrace should be treated as a homogeneous group, (as should all protected buildings) in the spirit of the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, as “groups of buildings: homogeneous groups of urban or rural buildings conspicuous for their historical, archaeological, artistic, scientific, social or technical interest which are sufficiently coherent to form topographically definable units.” p.2. European Treaty Series No. 121 Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe * Granada, 3.X.1985.

Protected Structures in Irish Law: A structure must be listed on the planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status under the Act. ‘The RPS must include every structure in the planning authority's area of special interest. Inclusion of these structures in the RPS means that their importance is recognised, they are legally protected from harm and all future changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process

To quote the relevant section of the planning and development act (2000): 57.—(1): "Notwithstanding section 4 (1)(h), the carrying out of works to a protected structure, or a proposed protected structure, shall be exempted development only if those works would not materially affect the character of - (a) the structure, or (b) any element of the structure which contributes to its special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest."

If a structure is included in the RPS, the protection extends to: the interior of the structure, the land and curtilage (meaning the land and all outbuildings immediately surrounding a structure) which is (or was) used for the purposes of the structure.

In other words, the Dublin Central proposal to demolish the O’Connell Street terrace and retain the facades is not only blatantly illegal, it is in direct violation of the planning legislation.

Dublin City Development Plan 2016–2022 Record of Protected Structures: Section 58 further states that '(1) each owner and each occupier (i.e. the developer) shall, to the extent consistent with the rights and obligations arising out of their respective interests in a protected structure or a proposed protected structure, ensure that the structure, or any element of it which contributes to its special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest, is not endangered.' Any other adjacent structures on that land and their interiors, and all fixtures and features forming part of the interior and exterior of the protected structure or any structure on the grounds attached to it, in other words, all the adjoined structures are regarded as having equal protection and status under the law. Dublin City Council (as part of its legal obligations under the act, maintains a list of protected structures in Dublin City with several of the Upper O’Connell Street terrace buildings included. The proposal to demolish and reconstruct the Upper Terrace is in direct contravention of the protected status of the buildings on O’Connell street.

Protected Structures: Naturally, under the planning system, minor works to structures do not normally require planning permission under exempted development. However, for a protected structure, such works can be carried out without planning permission only if the works would not affect the character of the structure or any element of the structure that contributes to its special interest. A declaration from the local authority would be necessary as to the type of works which would or would not materially affect the character of the structure. The planning authority could attempt to add and delete structures from its RPS when reviewing the development plan or at any other time. Three stages must be gone through before a structure can be added to the RPS: • Identification • Assessment • Notification No such procedure has been initiated with regard to the O’Connell Street buildings under consideration as part of the Dublin Central plan either in either application. 1922 O’Connell St. Architecture in context: With regard to Post – Independence architects made efforts to reflect the 18th century layout as part of the post War of Independence / Civil War reconstruction, their loss is basically a loss of 18th architectural form in O’Connell St, itself. The 1922 architects correctly acted to retain the form of the 18th century buildings in their reconstruction. This fact is acknowledged in the Dublin Central application (No.45 Upper O’Connell St.) itself.

This is completely different from a pastiche reflection in terms of a sandblasted façade., retained as a piece of nostalgia, as will be the case if the ‘Dublin Central’ scheme proceeds in its current form as the 18th century form of the street will be altered forever. O’Connell St. in Planning and Heritage context: Allowing the demolition of protected structures and façade retention alone will serve as a green light for the demolition of protected structures more generally, if listed buildings on the main street of the capital can be struck off the protected list (the protected status applies to the structure, not simply the extent façade), to facilitate a commercial development then the concept of heritage protection is itself meaningless. In this case, the development is a test case for the legal status of protected structures under the Planning and Development (2000) Act. Final Points on this Historic Street: Most of the O’Connell Street buildings are of immense historic importance and have considerable architectural merit in their own right, these include the post 1922 structures, which strove to reflect the 18th century form of the destroyed and damaged buildings. The post 1922 structures should be retained in their entirety and not subject to destruction as they are as much a part of Ireland’s architectural history as the General Post Office, which was also reconstructed after 1922. The G.P.O. has just as much heritage protection as the Upper O’Connell Street terrace, and could in the future be subject to equal destruction should the original 2010 planning permission(2479/08) and the present (2862/21) be allowed to stand and pass. Delisting Historic Buildings: If listed buildings can be destroyed then the protective heritage legislation is itself redundant, it has no legal value and can be overridden if the Government so chooses. O’Connell Street is therefore a test principle of this view, the structures are valueless at the stroke of a pen. The legislation is clear that a separate planning process initiated by the local council is necessary to remove a protected structure. This clearly has not occurred, and the properties remain on the protected structures list. Delisting is for purposes of Conservation, not removal:

This proposal is direct violation of the spirit and substance of current Irish planning and heritage legislation and arguably, of the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, on which the planning and development act 2000 is in part based.

Heritage removal on O’Connell Street:

The Upper O’Connell street terrace are the last remnants of the original 18th century Georgian street, and are successful in themselves as a resurrection of the spirit of the original conception of O’Connell Street. In fact, given the immense difficulties the architects faced, their achievement was noteworthy and is as much deserving of the continued protection of the state as the General Post Office. The proposed demolition in O’Connell Street acts directly against protective legislation in Ireland and against the spirit of Article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe p.3.“Each Party undertakes to prohibit the removal, in whole or in part, of any protected monument, except where the material safeguarding of such monuments makes removal imperative. In these circumstances the competent authority shall take the necessary precautions for its dismantling, transfer and reinstatement at a suitable location.

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