Dáil Éireann - Volume 575 - 26 November, 2003

Written Answers. - Architectural Heritage.

[927]  157. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans for the improvement, development and protection of heritage houses and sites throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28618/03]

  Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Cullen):My Department continues to assist a wide range of capital projects at heritage sites throughout the country under the relevant sub-measure of the national development plan. Most benefiting properties would form part of my Department's portfolio of some 740 properties in State care and ownership. Examples of these are the refurbishment of the Palm House in the National Botanic Gardens and restoration works at Castletown House. In addition, my Department continues to undertake minor conservation, maintenance and improvement works at heritage sites as the need arises and resources permit.

  Generally, heritage sites and houses are protected through a variety of legal mechanisms. Statutory protection of the architectural heritage is afforded through the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000. This legislation places a duty of care on the owners of protected structures and also gives enhanced powers of enforcement to planning authorities. My Department provides advice to planning authorities in the exercise of their functions.

  Under the provisions of the Act, each planning authority is required, for the purpose of protecting structures or parts of structures which are of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest, to include in its development plan a record of protected structures within its functional area.

  This use of the Planning and Development Acts and the completion of surveys such as my Department's national inventory of architectural heritage are important methods of assisting in the protection of the architectural heritage in private ownership.

  My Department also operates a number of measures which provide assistance towards the cost of conserving our architectural heritage and the Heritage Council, which is funded by my Department, also provides grant aid for architectural conservation projects. Under section 482 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, the Revenue Commissioners allow owners/occupiers to avail of tax relief in respect of expenditure incurred in the repair, maintenance or restoration of an approved building.

  Significant further extension of the existing State-owned portfolio of over 740 national monuments and historic properties that are in the care of my Department cannot realistically be contem[928]plated because of the financial implications. The costs of maintaining this portfolio are already very significant and therefore innovative alternatives to further State acquisition to ensure the protection of landmark heritage properties under threat need to be explored. In light of this, I recently initiated the first steps of an examination into the issue of facilitating the emergence of trust-type organisations which might, independently of Government and with minimal State aid, acquire and manage such heritage properties.