Insurance problems and the requirement for fire escapes are making it difficult for some of the 264 businesses on Dún Laoghaire’s main street to develop over-shop residential units.
As the Government reviews its vacant properties policy for its Housing for All strategy, due to be published next month, a call has been made to ensure any scheme is focused on dealing with town-specific problems.
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said Dún Laoghaire “is an old Victorian town and it has proved very difficult” to convert over-shop space into residential property. This was for a range of reasons, including the need for fire escapes and insurance difficulties.
Ms Carroll MacNeill said “because of the way our Victorian towns are designed there isn’t a separate entrance to many of the buildings. You have to go through the shop to get upstairs.”
There is very limited scope for new construction in the area, and the 1.2km-long George’s Street has considerable housing potential, she said.
She said the structure of the buildings on the street has created significant planning, safety and insurance problems. A previous scheme to revitalise town centres several years ago “fell down” on these tricky issues.
“One of the practical problems was [over-shop residences] needed a separate front door and fire exit. How do you access it at night time if the shop is closed?”
She added that there were also problems with planning permission, conservation of the Victorian structures and making the changes needed.
“Building by building they’re all different,” she said. The changes would be made “out the back as much as out the front, but you do need to be able to access the building in different ways rather than walking through somebody’s shop, and you can see the insurance problem that creates”.
But Ms Carroll MacNeill said she believed an “eminently sensible” solution could be found to address these difficulties in Dún Laoghaire and other Victorian towns similarly affected.
Minister of State for Local Government and Planning Peter Burke said Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council was one of six local authorities involved in a pilot project to establish the number of vacant properties. There were 1,177 vacant properties, of which 21 were deemed to be in long-term dereliction.
He said that later in the year there would be “firm Government proposals for unlocking” some vacant sites and properties across the country to bring them back into use.
As part of efforts to revitalise the town, the council last week announced the trial pedestrianisation of Lower George’s Street from July 5th to September 30th. Traffic will be banned to facilitate outdoor dining, markets, arts and cultural events, along a 250m stretch from Marine Road to a newly created pedestrian plaza, Myrtle Square.