New uses for vacant buildings

 

Sir, – Kevin Nowlan’s call for the repurposing of vacant buildings to help resolve the housing crisis should be welcomed and supported by all (“‘Compact’ growth key to future residential development”, Business Opinion, May 10th).

Standing at 120,000 vacant properties, the scale is astonishing but illustrates an opportunity to help address a national crisis and at the same time revitalise buildings and streetscapes in towns and cities around the country.

While the Irish Georgian Society concurs with Mr Nowlan’s proposal that conservation rules could be reviewed to facilitate this process, it would suggest that a considered and timely rather than a “swift and radical” approach be adopted as this latter could easily be to the detriment of our built heritage. Such is the case with development-focused specific planning policy requirements which, though promoting higher densities and taller buildings, override local policies of control, including those relating to conservation.

The programme for government provides a starting point with its ambition to ensure a nationwide adoption of conservation officers and its commitment to continue support for conservation grants and the creation of an apprenticeship programme for traditional building skills. There are also very worthwhile studies to guide effective new initiatives such as the Dublin City Council-commissioned study on the re-use of Georgian townhouses (2019) and the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland’s Old House New Home (2020).

Going beyond these, the Irish Georgian Society concurs with Mr Nowlan’s suggestion that a tiered model of listing buildings for protection be explored as it would be better understood by all and provide greater clarity in the planning process.

More coordination in implementing conservation legislation and access and fire regulations would also be beneficial. Additional funding for local authority conservation units would be necessary to achieve this but the benefit of revitalising vacant buildings for housing should surely provide sufficient incentive.

Furthermore, in any review of conservation rules, the potential role of the Living City Initiative to act as a catalyst for urban regeneration might be revisited. Take-up of the scheme has been poor and so an assessment of the reasons as to why this is the case is realistically needed.

No doubt many of the 120,000 vacant properties identified by Kevin Nowlan are protected structures or are otherwise of heritage interest. The refurbishment of even a portion of these presents a chance to not only assist in resolving the housing crisis but also to enhance our built environment. – Yours, etc,

DONOUGH CAHILL,

Executive Director,

Irish Georgian Society,

Dublin 2.