Neglect of historic sites a 'death warrant for city'

 

NEGLECT OF historic buildings in Dublin by Nama, the city council and other public authorities is “sealing a death-warrant for the city”, according to the chief executive of Dublin Civic Trust.

Geraldine Walsh warned that tourism would suffer unless action was taken to deal with derelict buildings and vacant sites.

“Discerning tourists would say Dublin was attractive once, but they wouldn’t go near it now,” she said.

Ms Walsh called for a concerted effort by public authorities, including Nama, to deal with the aftermath of the property bubble, with so many historic buildings facing uncertainty.

“Bernard McNamara reputedly owns 57 properties between Grafton Street and Drury Street, and he had plans to open up a new street between them,” she said.

“This should be seen as an opportunity by the city architects.”

When historic buildings are being sold by a receiver acting for Nama, Ms Walsh said the first option for refusal should be given to Dublin City Council or the Office of Public Works before such properties are put on the market.

Graham Hickey, the civic trust’s conservation officer, cited Read’s Cutlers on Parliament Street, regarded as the oldest shop in Dublin, where the trust was outbid by a private individual.

The trust’s bid was endorsed by Fáilte Ireland and backed by Dublin city manager John Tierney.

“We wrote to [Nama chairman] Frank Daly about its national and international significance, as it has the only surviving 18th century shopfront in Dublin. But we were told that the receiver had suggested a price and they couldn’t overrule it.”

Mr Hickey said he had assumed that Nama had powers to reject a receiver’s recommendation or any valuation of any property under its control.

“If receivers can do all the work, what’s the point of having Nama?” he asked.

Dublin Civic Trust is also concerned about the “severely deteriorating quality” of the city’s public realm, a “market-led approach” to poor shopfront design and retail uses as well as the “lack of enforcement” of planning control and the 30km/h speed limit.

“Significant nationally-funded projects such as the children’s hospital and the Luas link on College Green and major civic thoroughfares are also in danger of impinging on the urban environment, and demand much greater involvement by city authorities.”

Stephen Coyne, the trust’s planning policy adviser, cited the example of West’s former jewellery shop on the corner of Grafton Street and South Anne Street, where plans to replace its high-quality 1960s shopfront “just flew through for economic reasons”.

He said this reflected an “emerging ethos” in the city council’s planning department that, in the current climate, anyone who was prepared to invest in the city should not be burdened with conditions on the treatment of historic buildings.

As a result, “any use of any shop is seen as welcome, because it keeps the [commercial] rates coming in”, Mr Coyne said. These charges were rejected by the council’s planning and development manager, Michael Stubbs, who said the city council would “not sacrifice the architectural heritage for economic development” in the current climate. “The two things have to go hand in hand,” he added.

Nama has said it does not own buildings, but rather the development loans associated with them. It has also said that, where owners are “not honouring their responsibilities”, it had ensured properties were secured.

Among buildings in danger, Ms Walsh said the the former Hume Street cancer hospital could be turned into artists’ studios for the Royal Hibernian Academy in Ely Place.

The trust has inspected another AIB-owned property on Mountjoy Square, with fine plasterwork, which it says could be furnished as a tourist attraction to complement others, such as the Dublin Writers Museum on Parnell Square.