Conservation laws in Ireland have long adopted a one-size-fits-all approach, in that a building is either a protected structure – or it is not.
Under current legislation, if a structure is listed on the Record of Protected Structures, then all fixtures and features forming part of the interior, exterior and all within the building’s curtilage are protected. Therefore, if a building is deemed to be protected, there are strict guidelines in place surrounding building maintenance and renovation. Such guidelines have made the path to renovating these buildings uneconomical, with simple works such as painting or replacing windows potentially requiring planning permission.
The biggest issue with this legislation is that it does not consider the state of the site. All structures are granted the same blanket level of protection. As a result, sites that could be used for much-needed housing are left vacant and likely to fall into disrepair.
So, what can be done? Simply put, the most sustainable way of preserving buildings is to make them relevant, useful and fit for purpose. If we look to the UK as an example, they have a three-tier system in place that allows for the protection of heritage sites of value, while sites that are likely to sit derelict are subject to more lenient planning controls. By implementing a similar model, we can protect the sites worth protecting, while transforming the sites that have fallen into neglect into much-needed accommodation.
To make the renovation of these sites feasible, we must also review our fire safety laws in conjunction with our planning laws. There is a need to be sympathetic and in harmony with our traditional buildings, which were not constructed with current regulations in mind. Fire safety legislation and conservation principles are non-cohesive to protected structures and there needs to be a greater onus on fire safety management post-works. Typically, if a Fire Safety Certificate is required, a Disability Access Certificate is required too. While there have been attempts in recent years to relax this requirement, it is not enough. In a multi-unit residential building, a more pragmatic approach is needed.
The easing of our Architectural Heritage Protection rules would allow for sites of significant heritage value to remain protected, while allowing sites of lesser value to be repurposed to meet our growing need for housing, ensuring a more sustainable solution to the regeneration of our Irish cities.
Tim Cahill is managing director of Grayling Properties