David Norris: How to stop decline of Georgian Dublin

Dublin City Council’s record of protection ‘lamentable’, says Independent Senator

David Norris walks through Northside Georgian Dublin with Olivia Kelly looking at 'knicker palaces', 'bomb sites' and 'lavatorial buildings'. Video: Enda O' Dowd

 

A new development authority, modelled on the Wide Streets Commission of the 18th century, must be established to stem and reverse the decline of the north inner city, Independent Senator David Norris has said.

O’Connell Street and the surrounding Georgian and Victoria district was slipping into ever greater degradation with derelict historic buildings, a build-up of household rubbish and inappropriate infill developments on the site of former Georgian houses.

Dereliction had become “endemic” in the north Georgian core of the city and Dublin City Council appeared to be doing nothing to stop it, Mr Norris said. “The city authorities here are absolutely lamentable.”

While the council kept a list of endangered buildings, they seemed slow to take any meaningful action against their owners, he said.

“It’s intolerable that so many buildings are left like this for years. In legal terms everybody is terrified of property, because of the specific protection of private property in the Constitution, but what people forget or they don’t have the courage to enact is that the governing provision of all these things in the Constitution is the public good.”

Public good

The exclusive rights of property could be challenged by invoking the public good, he said.

“Surely it is for the public good that the principal street of our capital city and the surrounding streets are properly maintained?”

The protection of the district could be achieved by setting up a new planning and governing authority with a specific mandate and “exemplary powers” to protect and restore the historic streets of the north inner city.

He cited the example of the Wide Streets Commission, the city’s first planning authority in the mid-18th century, responsible for governing the development of many of Dublin’s premier Georgian streets including Parliament Street, Westmoreland Street, D’Olier Street and Lower Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street.

“The Wide Streets Commission was given sweeping powers, almost dictatorial powers, they governed the roof height the fenestration the doorways – everything. They laid down the rules and they had to be observed. What I would like to see is a new kind of Wide Streets Commission that would have the power to enforce regulations,” said Mr Norris.

Split into flats

Speaking during a walk around the north inner city, close to his home on North Great George’s Street, Mr Norris said the decline of so many historic buildings on streets such as North Frederick Street or Gardiner Place could in part be attributed to the fact that they were split into flats and their owners often did not care about the living conditions of their tenants.

“It’s amazing where some people will live if they have no choice,” he said, pointing to broken windows stuffed with pillows, and vegetation growing up through the brickwork.

“Of course I don’t blame the tenants, I blame the landlords, but what I think should happen is there should be a 10 per cent local-authority surcharge.”

This money levied on multiple occupancy dwellings would be ring-fenced for the upkeep of the houses, he said.

Uncollected rubbish bags, and the resultant litter, had become a serious problem, he said, as private waste companies would not remove bags that had not been paid for.

The council also needed to end their “tuppenny ha’penny” attitude to the city’s main thoroughfares, he said, citing sites on O’Connell Street left vacant for decades, the proliferation of amusement arcades and sex shops, and inappropriate modern development instead of reinstatement of old buildings.