Friday 6 December 2019

'Ugly blot' on seascape may have contravened planning

Public meeting hears calls to bulldoze €36m Dun Laoghaire library on seafront

MONSTROSITY: Objectors see the modernist building on Dun Laoghaire’s Victorian seafront as a symbol of the squandering of taxpayers’ money. Photo: Gerry Mooney
MONSTROSITY: Objectors see the modernist building on Dun Laoghaire’s Victorian seafront as a symbol of the squandering of taxpayers’ money. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Jim Cusack

THE 125ft high library "monstrosity" that has obliterated the Victorian seafront in Dun Laoghaire may have been built in contravention of planning laws, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Council has been accused of failing to record the surrounding buildings and structures of historic and architectural importance, in contravention of sections of the Planning and Development Acts.

This allowed the council to build the enormous concrete, red brick and glass structure that now dominates the historic seafront.

One of the objectors to the building, local barrister Stephen Delaney, said the council "failed inexcusably" to record the historic 19th-Century Mariners' Church, the Royal Marine Hotel, the National and Royal St George yacht clubs, the assistant harbour master's lodge and the reservoir which supplied ships in the harbour. All of these are protected structures.

Mr Delaney said the council was in breach of the Planning and Development Act by not recording them for the purpose of preserving the seafront.

The new library was branded a "monstrosity" at a packed public meeting in Dun Laoghaire last week, where a proposal for the €36m, 38m (125ft) high, modernist building to be demolished was warmly welcomed. The meeting heard that it would cost up to €2m to demolish. This was greeted with calls that it would be "worth it" from the floor.

Tuesday's meeting was called by the local ratepayers' association and was attended by around 200 people in the Royal Marine Hotel, which lost a large part of its sea view as the library began to tower over the seafront towards the end of last year.

The organiser of the meeting, Peter Kerrigan, who runs his Celtic Invoice Discounting business in Dun Laoghaire, told the Sunday Independent: "The library seems to symbolise the squandering of taxpayers' money on what are basically going to be plush offices for council officials. We asked the council for the details of the top officials but got no response. The chief librarian post is paid €108,000.

"They misled people about the size of the building, saying it was only four storeys in height, but the ceiling heights are huge and it is the size of an eight-storey building."

Mr Kerrigan added: "There was a suggestion that it should be knocked down and we estimate that would cost €2m, but that would save €20m-30m in completion costs. There was considerable support for that. It is completely out of place. It has no windows and it is going to cost a fortune to heat and maintain. I think it is seen as a symbol of the waste of public money."

Journalist and presenter Marc Coleman, who chaired the meeting, said it appeared the council had "learnt nothing" from the damage done to historic streetscapes in Dublin with the Civic Offices on the Liffey and the ESB office building in Fitzwilliam Square.

He told the Sunday Independent: "It seems to epitomise the sheer waste of public money. The mood of the meeting was very negative towards this building. People asked why the money could not be spent on providing homes for people or renovating the town centre. The manager [Owen Keegan, now Dublin City manager] who presided over the spending of €36m on this, moved to Dublin and immediately cut €6m from the homeless budget. That seems an odd set of priorities."

Only two of the 24 Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail councillors who voted in favour of the library, Labour's Jane Dillon Byrne and Fianna Fail's Cormac Devlin, attended Tuesday's meeting.

Just three councillors voted against the proposal in November 2009: People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett and Hugh Lewis, and Independent councillor Victor Boyhan.

During the period of public consultation most responses were opposed to the "super library" which was described as "grandiose", "excessive", an "ugly blot", "incomprehensible" and an "everlasting indictment of the council". An Taisce's strong objections were also ignored.

During the meeting the local Church of Ireland rector proposed it should be used as resource centre and provide free meals for the homeless and poor.

The Rev Asa Bjork Olafsdottir, who also addressed the packed meeting last Tuesday, said: "It was a very negative meeting. There was a lot of anger. People need something positive and we need a resource centre in Dun Laoghaire. We need facilities, showers, washing machines, dryers.

"People are suffering food poverty here and families who cannot afford to heat their homes need a place that is warm where they can bring their children. The elderly and the lonely need a place they can come to."

Sunday Independent

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