Plans to demolish historic house in Howth rejected

Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 01:00

FINGAL COUNTY Council has refused planning permission to demolish one of the oldest houses in Howth, in Dublin, and its replacement by a much larger house in “mock Georgian” style.

The Department of Heritage had advised the council that the house, called Carraig Breac, on Old Carrickbrack Road, was remodelled and extended in 1859 by eminent Victorian architect, Benjamin Woodward, for a renowned Irish physician, Dr William Stokes.

Though not listed in the council’s Record of Protected Structures, the department said full consideration needed to be given to the historical and architectural merit of Carraig Breac and, in particular, its association with both Stokes and Woodward.

As the council’s planning report notes, the department was “concerned” that the proposal to demolish Carraig Breac – which is believed to date from the early 19th century – “would have a negative impact on the architectural heritage of Fingal”.

In a letter to The Irish Times on June 11th, a group of 11 academics noted that Dr Stokes’s son, Whitley, had translated the Danish ballad Hellalyle and Hildebrand that inspired Frederic William Burton’s painting, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs.

Calling for Carraig Breac House to be preserved, they also pointed out that Dr Stokes’s daughter Margaret had saved the painting and bequeathed it to the Irish nation in 1900. It was recently voted as “Ireland’s favourite painting” in a poll by RTÉ.

The planning application, submitted by Lucinda Taylor, sought permission to demolish the existing 605sq m (6,512s ft) house and replace it with a larger house of 779sq m (8,385sq ft), with a separate double garage and studio of 148sq m (1,593sq ft).

Fingal officials expressed concern about the size of the proposed house. But the applicants argued that the existing house was of “little architectural merit”, compromised by numerous extensions and not suited to “family living”.

But conservation officer Helena Bergin recommended retention and reuse of the existing house, rather than demolition and replacement by a new house with a 40m frontage in a design that she believed was “excessive in scale and size”.

The applicants declined a request to scale back the frontage to 30m, given the sensitivity of the site in a zone designated as a special amenity area, and also indicated that they “did not wish to explore” the possibility of a contemporary design.

The planning report noted that the scheme would involve removing 48 of the 105 trees on the site to make way for the new house, which “would be dominant and bulky in nature when viewed from the road”, leaving the remaining trees exposed.

In its decision, the council said the “design, height and excessive scale” of the proposed house would have a “significant adverse impact on the distinctive natural and visual amenities of the area” and the loss of trees would also be “seriously injurious”.

Given the historic importance and significance of Carraig Breac, the council said its removal would contravene a pledge in the Fingal County Development Plan to “protect, maintain and enhance the natural and built heritage of the county”.

It also expressed concern that the site might contain a portion of Howth’s red squirrels, which are protected species under the Wildlife Acts, and said it had not been demonstrated that wastewater would be “solely disposed of on-site”.