Wexford County Council planners have turned down an application by a development company to build 46 apartments on a site in Parnell Street in Wexford town which contains the remains of an historic structure known as Taylor’s Castle.
The local authority refused planning permission sought by LHM Properties for the apartment complex solely for the reason that the application included a proposal for the demolition of a Protected Structure known as Castle House which was recently included in the County Development Plan 2022-2028 following earlier requests from councillors.
Castle House which is located between the Faythe Guest House and the old Wexford Co-op site in Parnell Street, was used as a grain store during the 20th century. Around the time of the previous planning application by LMH Properties in 2020, councillors including George Lawlor and John Hegarty expressed concern about the historic structure and called for it to be protected. It was then placed on the Record of Protected Structures in the Draft County Development Plan.
In recommending refusal, an executive planner explained that the council is precluded from granting planning permission for the demolition of a Protected Structure under the Planning and Development Act of 2000.
He also stated that insufficient information was submitted with the application to demonstrate that certain issues had been satisfactorily addressed including archaeological testing, safe and convenient access for mobility-impaired people and the use of suitable durable exterior.
It’s the third time since 2006 that a planning application for housing units has been rejected on the site, with the most recent in 2020 when LMH were refused planning permission for an apartment complex for the same reason. In 2006, Wexford County Council granted permission to Juice Construction for four two-storey town houses and 67 apartments, which was overturned on appeal by An Bord Pleanála.
The directors of LHM Properties are listed as Martin Sinnott and Leonie Grant while Martin Sinnott was the director of Juice Construction which made the first application.
Around the time of the previous planning application in 2020, councillors including George Lawlor and John Hegarty called for Castle House and Gothic Wall to be protected and it was placed on the Record of Protected Structures in the Draft County Development Plan.
The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage made a lengthy submission on the latest application, noting that the application was a revised version of a scheme presented to the local authority in 2020 which was refused.
It said the revised proposal was regarded as inappropriate due to its impact on an important structure in the Wexford Record of Protected Structures and adverse impact on the historic character of Parnell Street.
"The Department previously provided a detailed response to the local authority to guide the appropriate heritage-led approach to this proposed infill project (subsequently refused) and the issues raised in the report at that time have unfortunately note been addressed in the current application”.
The Department said it was of particular concern that Castle House on the site, known to have been in existence from 1675 was proposed for demolition without an appropriate assessment report.
It said the layout of the design was to maximise residential units and ignored the cultural and historic significance of the site.
Submissions had been made by local residents expressing fears about the development and included a petition signed by 106 residents.
Among the outlined concerns were that the four-storey block would overshadow certain residences and block light and telecommunications; would have an adverse visual impact on the area; would create greater traffic congestion and demand for parking spaces; would result in the demolition of Castle House and Gothic Tower; the density of units was too high, there would be a risk to the structure of adjoining properties; the design and layout would give rise to anti-social behaviour particularly in the basement car park and the view of the Gothic screen wall from Parnell Street would be lost.
The application was for a new apartment complex consisting of 40 two-bed units and six three-bed units with car parking at basement level and the provision of a new vehicular entrance.
A Wexford County Council planning inspector noted that the Castle House and Screen Wall were added to the list of Protected Structures in the new Wexford County Development Plan in June/July 2022 and consequently the local authority was precluded from granting permission for demolition.
Robert Cullen of Fergus Flanagan Architects, acting on behalf of the developers submitted that the Castle House had no architectural or archaeological merit; there was little remaining of the structure; an Architectural Heritage Impact Assessment prepared in 2020 and submitted with the new application stated that the building was substantially derelict by 1920; there was little fabric remaining and its demolition was a justifiable proposal and the protection of the building was delaying the construction of 46 housing units which were much needed.
"We strongly feel that there is no justification for the proposed inclusion of NIAH Ref.15505108.The decision to include this structure on the Record of Protected Structures is purely political and has no architectural or archaeological merit. This structure is the ruins of Castle House, a structure that has been heavily modified to a state where it is completely beyond recognition.”
“Due to the fact that this structure has been modified beyond recognition and to put it quite simply, there is nothing left to protect. In fact, Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology have concluded that there is little fabric or architectural expression of the original Castle House remaining and that the demolition of the grainstore/Castle House is a justifiable proposal It should also be noted that the Planning Department were supportive of the previous proposal to demolish this structure as can be seen on the planning reports for planning reference which further demonstrates that the proposed included onto the Records of Protected Structures is a political decision rather than one based on the building’s own merits. We fully support the protection of the adjacent Gothic Wall NIAH Ref 15505109 and this structure will be protected and maintained to form an important feature within the proposed development.
The planning inspector said it was not considered that exceptional circumstances had been demonstrated for the demolition of the Protected Structure and he was recommending refusal for this reason.
While accepting that the area did experience heavy traffic demand, especially during rush hour periods, he added that the density of the development on the site was not a cause for refusal and nor was the principle of redeveloping a long unused site which he considered would enhance local residential amenity. He also said he did not believe the basement car park would result in anti-social behaviour.
"Refusal of the application has to be recommended due to the proposed demolition of the structure known as Castle House.”