Planning refusal for major Sligo development
An award-winning Scottish architect has likened his experience of the Irish planning permission to "wading through treacle" after his client was refused permission for a major development in Sligo, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor.
The planning refusal was issued last month after Sligo Borough Council decided on the casting vote of its mayor to list as a protected structure an early 19th century building that would have had to be demolished to make way for the scheme.
"It's a devastating blow which puts the whole project at risk", said the architect, Mr Alan Dunlop. "We feel terribly sorry for our client . . . and disappointed for the town because it looks as though it will now miss out on major investment and new jobs".
A local developer, Mr Louis Doherty, commissioned Gordon Murray and Alan Dunlop Architects to draw up plans for a mixed residential and retail scheme fronting onto Old Market Street, adjoining Sligo's imposing Victorian courthouse.
The scheme, designed in a contemporary style, was intended to replace a two-storey building from 1820, known as Teeling House, and the largely disused backland area to its rear. At the time, this building was not listed as a protected structure.
Last September, the borough council decided by six votes to five not to include the threatened Teeling House in its list of protected structures, but some members who favoured retaining it immediately attempted to reverse this decision.
The Sligo county manager, Mr Hubert Kearns, had recommended that the building should be listed because it was a high priority to retain historic buildings in a designated conservation area surrounding the recently-renovated courthouse.
Mr Murray said Teeling House was "in poor condition" and the architects saw no reason to retain it "simply because it's old".
He said the decision to list it came after a document, which neither the architects nor their client had seen before "despite an exhaustive search of the town's museums and planning archives", was read out detailing its importance to Sligo.
"As an outsider, I find the local politics very interesting. One councillor being played off against another, one party deliberately voting against another - on politics not issues", Mr Dunlop said. "How anything gets built is beyond me, honestly." But a spokesman for An Taisce welcomed the borough council's decision to refuse permission. "What was proposed was seriously over-scaled and would have been seriously detrimental to the wonderfully-restored courthouse".
He acknowledged that the architects had done some very good work in Glasgow and elsewhere, but their proposed development in Sligo was of a "huge urban scale" that would have been inappropriate to its setting on Old Market Street.
Mr Dunlop said the need to provide residents with light in confined spaces to the rear, as well as the use of high-quality materials meant that the margins are so tight that we cannot make it work without replacing Teeling House.
It is expected that the developer, Mr Doherty, will now exercise his right to appeal to An Bord PleanÃ¡la.