Redevelopment of Dún Laoghaire’s Victorian baths, which have been derelict for almost 20 years, has been given the go-ahead by the Department of the Environment.
However, the public swimming pools, in use for more than 150 years, will not be reopened and will instead be converted into artists’ studios, a gallery and cafes.
The Royal Victoria baths were built in 1843 beside Scotsman’s Bay. In 1896, Kingston Urban District Council purchased the site and built new indoor and outdoor pools which were completed in 1908 .
The baths were improved and extended in the 1930s and continued with little alteration up to the 1980s, when the Rainbow Rapid watersides opened. These closed in the mid-1990s and the abandoned baths had become derelict by the early 2000s.
Various ambitious redevelopment plans have since been proposed for the site . In 2005, councillors rejected a €140 million plan which included an eight-storey building with 180 apartments over retail units and restaurants, an indoor swimming and leisure complex, and a maritime park on five acres of infilled seashore.
It was another five years before a plan for the restoration and reopening of the baths was agreed. This plan, which would have retained a public pool on the site had a price tag of €20 million, and the council could not muster sufficient funds. The plan was revised in 2012 to a more modest €2.5 million refurbishment, which would not include a swimming pool .
This proposal is what the council now intends to pursue. The three-year delay in progressing the project largely resulted from the need to secure a foreshore licence from the Department of the Environment. Approval in principle has been issued, allowing the council to start its internal planning process for the development.
In addition to art and cafe use of the main building, the dilapidated later structures will be demolished and the saltwater pools filled in. The area will be landscaped to create a new park and a walkway to the East Pier and the People’s Park. At the bottom of the park, a jetty will be built to provide access to the sea for swimmers and a landing point for canoes and kayaks.
A public pool at the site is still a requirement of the current development plan, Councillor
(FF) said, but he welcomed the redevelopment proposals to bring the historic buildings back into use.
“The plans will also ensure the site remains in public ownership and provide additional amenities on the seafront,” he said.
The plans will be made available for public consultation and it is expected they will be presented to the councillors for formal approval next September, with construction beginning in 2016.
Separately, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has plans for an “urban beach” with a floating swimming pool with heated seawater on a converted river barge to the north of the baths site. These plans are on appeal to An Bord Pleanála.