An application for an extension of time of the planning permission for the demolition of 61 - 62 Thomas Street was lodged earlier this month [Reg. no. 4775/08/x1] The extension of time process seems to be a, make it up as you go along, procedure, as administered by Dublin City Council. Third parties have apparently no right to comment on an application for a five year extension to a planning permission that one might have been counting down the days until it had died. Essentially, a developer just fills in a form as his planning permission is about to expire and requests another five years to build the scheme that he submitted usually about six years ago. The theory is that, if nothing has changed, and the scheme was obviously sound enough to have been given planning permission the first time round, why would it not be permitted now?
And that is the key point . . . nothing has changed!
One would have thought that everything has changed, but no, nothing has changed.
61/62 Thomas Street will be a particularly interesting test case, because the argument that 'nothing has changed' will be difficult to sustain here. The original permission was granted a few months before 'Thomas Street and Environs' were designated an Architectural Conservation Area
Many people believe that ACAs are about as useful as a chocolate teapot, but even if that is so, how do you argue that the ACA is so meaningless that it hasn't even changed the planning perameters of the street that it brought in to protect?
The other site-specific thing that has changed in the interim is that we now know a little bit more about the early development of Thomas Street than we did five years ago.
In their final submission of additional information, back in 2009, the architects, who were then becoming increasingly exasperated with the Planning Dept.'s apparent lack of enthusiasm for their office block, supplied what they supposed was the appearance of this part of the Thomas Street streetscape in the late 18th century. In this process, the architects clearly drew their inspiration from the likes of Baggot Street and Pembroke Street, which are around the corner from their D2 offices.
The purpose of this drawing appears to have been to persuade the planners that their proposed office block would echo the massing of the presumed earlier Georgian block-like houses. That the thing should read like a 'block' was evidently important to the design vision and, to that end, the façade of that part of the office block sitting on the site corresponding with no. 62 was recessed so that you got the full, three-dimensional, impact of the part of the block sitting on the site of no. 61. I've used the word recess here where I should have said 'fold'. The office block is 'folded' at this point, not recessed, obviously.
That we still can only ever see our built-heritage through a pristine Georgian prism, tells us everything we need to know about why we just cannot get our heads around streets like Thomas Street.
In fact, there is compelling evidence that both no. 61 and no. 62 belong to the second half of the 17th century and there is every possibility that fabric from this phase of development may be concealed behind the altered 18th and 19th century facades of these two houses. Irrespective of the protection that the ACA may or may not bestow of these houses, they should have automatic pre-1700 national monument protection, at least until they have been thoroughly examined and reported on by some conservation architect other than David [there's nothing here] Slattery.
Lease records establish that both houses were substantial inns in the latter years of the 17th century and both would have been among the more prominent buildings along a streetscape that then still retained many low, two to two-and-a-half storey, cage-work houses.
One early 18th century lease recites that Francis Mathews acquired the property [now no. 61] from a Thomas Brown in 1686, paying, what was for then, the very substantial annual rent of £35 for the 'house, brew house, malt house, mill house, stables, backsides and yards in St. Thomas Street, Dublin, called the Golden Last'
The 'Golden Last' was common inn sign at the time, though presumably its origins were in the shoemaking trade. Examples survive in Scarborough and Benidorm, both of which, apparently, are very popular with Glasgow Rangers supporters, a fact which suggests that their lager and chips pass the Anglo-Saxon cultural challenge.
No. 62, though narrower than 61, was also an inn from at least the early 1690s until well into the 1770s, at which point its new leaseholder, one Airy Jessop, appears to have converted it into a ribbon and garter shop. The landlord, Sir James Quaile Somerville described the property in 1779 as 'the large and extensive concerns in Thomas Street . . nearly opposite the market house commonly called and known by the name of the Blue Boar'
These houses, even in their semi-demolished state, are a key part of the surviving early streetscape of Thomas Street. Instead of trying to demolish everything on site and resuscitate plans for a pre-property-crash office block that itself belongs to a different era, the owners need to come up with a new plan that acknowledges the value of the existing structures and the new ACA context of Thomas Street. The potential is there to re-imagine these two venerable houses in a way that connects with their long and valuable commercial heritage and still develop the back areas with a reasonable amount of new square footage.
The first order of business is for the Planning Office to politely decline the present application, before anyone gets the idea that the Corpo are slipping back into business as usual mode.