Hundreds of protected Dublin apartments face 'delisting' and demolition

Dublin council is considering ‘delisting’ historic structures under regeneration plans

April 2nd, 2018: Herbert Simms is credited with designing 17,000 dwellings in Dublin and helping transform the city in the 1930s. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

Hundreds of protected historic flats, including blocks designed by renowned Dublin housing architect Herbert Simms, face “delisting” and demolition under new regeneration plans.

Dublin City Council wants to redevelop more than 6,000 flats in 109 complexes, all of which are more than 40 years old.

Most do not meet current building standards of accessibility, fire safety and building quality, and a significant number have mould, condensation and sewerage problems, the council said.

The council’s head of housing Brendan Kenny said it should consider removing some of its oldest flat blocks from the Record of Protected Structures (RPS) so they could be demolished to make way for new apartment complexes.

The flats at Chancery House. Photograph: Tom Honan
The flats at Chancery House. Photograph: Tom Honan

More than 800 flats in seven blocks, including Chancery House behind the Four Courts and Mercer House near St Stephen’s Green – both built by Simms in the 1930s – are listed on the (RPS) to protect them from destruction.

Simms oversaw the construction of 17,000 flats and houses in Dublin in his tenure as housing architect from 1932 to 1948.

Feasibility studies

Mr Kenny said recent feasibility studies indicated the cost of refurbishing the complexes to bring them up to modern standards can be as high as demolition and rebuilding.

“There isn’t a hope in hell of getting Government funding to do refurbishment,” he said.

“Most of these complexes are not fit for purpose in this day and age and they need radical change. In my view we should demolish most of them, maybe all of them.”

This approach would not be possible when flats were listed on the RPS, he said. “We probably should think about delisting them because it’s very difficult to do a proper job on them.”

This view was “very shortsighted”, historian Dr Ruth McManus said. “There’s been a long battle for recognition of 20th century architecture, and it’s only as buildings are lost that people value them, we didn’t appreciate a lot of our Georgian architecture until it was gone.”

The argument that refurbishment can cost as much as rebuilding is somewhat irrelevant, she said. “Who says brand new is better? We’re not going around telling people in Georgian houses that it would be more cost efficient to demolish their homes and start again than to refurbish them.”

Delisting

Chair of the council’s housing committee, Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan, said delisting should be open for consideration. “I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. While we shouldn’t be urban vandals demolishing older buildings for the sake of it, I don’t think we should mothball the city.”

Each of the 109 complexes should be assessed on its individual merits, he said. “In some cases demolition may not be appropriate, and extra storeys could be added to buildings instead. The plans for each complex will be site specific.”

The Pearse House flats. Photograph: Tom Honan
The Pearse House flats. Photograph: Tom Honan

Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe said he would be “very cautious” about any delisting proposal. “There is a terrible tendency among local authority management to rush to demolish things and Mr Kenny’s remarks are symptomatic of that.”

Simms buildings were of “huge heritage value”, he said. “The work of Herbert Simms stands out as having made an amazing contribution to Dublin.”

The council had a “rather chequered history” of demolition, he said. “The wreckers ball may seem the easier option, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one.”