Dáil Éireann - Volume 538 - 21 June, 2001
Adjournment Debates. - Architectural Heritage.
Mr. Gregory Mr. Gregory
Mr. Gregory: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. The background to this issue is that a planning application was lodged by Collen Brothers with Dublin Corporation for a major redevelopment of the Wiggins Teape complex on East Wall Road. There was extensive consultation between the East Wall Residents Association, the developers and Dublin Corporation's planning department. It was agreed by all concerned that the central section of the front facade along with the main entrance would be retained and integrated into the new development. This arrangement was seen as a reasonable compromise by the residents association and by local representatives, including myself. Planning permission was granted on that basis. A third party, however, appealed, as was his right, to An Bord Pleanála. The board then, in its wisdom, decided to refuse permission and stated in its decision that the board carefully weighed the arguments in relation to the significance of the Wiggins Teape building and concluded that the entire front portion of the building, including the forward elements of the side elevations, was worthy of retention and would be capable of being integrated satisfactorily into a new development on the site. However, it was the view of the board that this would require redesign of the development as a whole.
Two days later, Collen Brothers, deliberately and in a calculated act of defiance of the findings of An Bord Pleanála, sent in the bulldozers in the early hours of the morning of Saturday, 16 June – Bloomsday – to demolish the frontage of the building that had just been described as being of architectural and historical significance. There is only one way to describe what was done – it was an act of despicable vandalism. Collen Brothers, the perpetrator of this destruction, is now rewarded with a cleared site with no obstacle of  architectural value in the way of its redevelopment.
However, its vandalism has drawn attention to the potential threat from unscrupulous developers hanging over many unlisted buildings in Dublin city. Steps must be taken to prevent this type of thing happening again. What is urgently required is a comprehensive survey of all buildings of merit in Dublin city. This would complement the national inventory of architectural heritage being compiled under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands throughout the country but, significantly, not in Dublin.
The survey I propose could follow the inventory being compiled with European funding by the Historic Heart of Dublin, a joint venture between Dublin Corporation and the Civic Trust, which ends in June this year. This pilot scheme concentrated on a limited area of the city; the same inventory urgently needs to be carried out citywide. Neither the funds nor the personnel are available to Dublin Corporation to carry out a comprehensive survey. It would have to be State supported. Perhaps the Minister of State will indicate if the necessary resources will be granted to Dublin Corporation to deal with this important matter. The extremely able conservation officer and her assistant in Dublin Corporation are already working flat out and under severe pressure with responsibilities arising from the recent changes in planning legislation and over 9,000 protected structures in Dublin city.
Other steps that could be taken to prevent further destruction or vandalism should include the introduction of some form of licensing or permit before any building of a significant size can be demolished. At present, no authorisation is required for buildings other than listed buildings, habitable houses and other exceptional circumstances. Surely a similar decision by An Bord Pleanála should imply a stay of execution on the demolition of buildings which the board considers to have special architectural merit, if only to give the planning authority time to react to the board's findings.
The developer, Collen Brothers, which was responsible for this act, should be prosecuted for vandalism and anti-social behaviour. This type of irresponsible action, motivated solely by greed, should not be allowed go unpunished. I fail to see the difference between this act of appalling vandalism and any other. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should call in the Garda and prosecute the perpetrator for vandalism.
Mr. D. Wallace Mr. D. Wallace
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. However, under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, the Mini ster is specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to an individual planning application or appeal with which An Bord Pleanála is or may be concerned.
In this case, one of the reasons cited by the board for refusing permission for development on the site related to the architectural and historical significance of the front section of the building. In arriving at its decision, the board weighed the arguments in relation to the significance of the building and concluded that the entire front portion of the building was worthy of retention and would be capable of being integrated satisfactorily into a new development on the site.
The law in relation to protection of our architectural heritage was substantially strengthened with the enactment of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1999, now consolidated in Part IV of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. The 1999 Act, which came into force on 1 January 2000, enhanced the powers of local authorities and increased the obligations on owners and occupiers of protected buildings. Under the Act, development plans must contain objectives for the preservation of buildings of architectural merit and all such buildings must be included in the record of protected structures to be contained in the development plan. The criteria for including a building in the record of protected structures are wide and include buildings of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest.
The Act places a duty on owners and occupiers to protect such structures with a maximum fine for damaging a protected structure of £1 million, increased to £10 million under the 2000 planning Act. Save in exceptional circumstances, a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála may not grant permission for the demolition of a protected structure.
The 1999 Act formed part of a comprehensive package of measures introduced jointly by my Department and Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to increase the protection of our architectural heritage. The latter Department was responsible for enactment of the Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1999. In addition, my Department introduced a scheme of grants for the conservation of protected structures, worth approximately £4 million per year, together with funding for the appointment of conservation officers to assist local authorities in carrying out their functions under the planning Act. An additional £1 million annual funding was also supplied to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in respect of the national inventory of architectural heritage and its role in providing day to day guidance for local authorities.
Under the 1999 planning Act, all buildings  listed in a development plan prior to the coming into force of the Act were automatically deemed to be protected, subject to the owners and any occupier being given an opportunity to have their views considered. Also, a new procedure for adding buildings to or deleting buildings from the record of protected structures was provided for. The final decision as to whether a building should become a protected structure is a matter for the elected members.
The strengthened provisions in the 1999 Act for the protection of our architectural heritage have placed considerable demands on local authorities. Initially this involved notification of the large number of owners and occupiers of previously listed buildings. In the process of identifying further buildings for possible inclusion in the record of protected structures, priority has generally been afforded to examination of pre-20th century buildings. With the enhanced resources available to local authorities as I have outlined, greater attention is now being given to identification of buildings of more recent vintage and I expect to see more 20th century buildings protected in local authority development plans.
I am satisfied that the statutory provisions introduced under the 1999 Act and the package of supporting measures put in place provide a strong basis for the protection of our architectural heritage and, as a consequence, do not accept the need for a certification or licensing system along the lines suggested.
Dáil Éireann 538 Adjournment Debates. Architectural Heritage.