A historic building is a finite, non-renewable resource which needs special skills to ensure its survival. Once original fabric is lost, the special character of the building may be destroyed, and the building’s authenticity can never be restored.
– The Heritage Council
For those not working in Ireland’s conservation sector, the various legislative designations for the historic built environment and their respective planning requirements can be daunting. The following is a brief overview intended to demystify these protections:
Protected Structures are buildings which the local authority has deemed to be of architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, social, scientific and/or technical importance. The inclusion of a building on the local authority’s Record of Protected Structures means that the building is ‘listed’, which entails special protections, owner responsibilities and planning requirements, as well as certain privileges and exemptions. For example, most State and private conservation grant schemes are only applicable to repairs or works to Protected Structures, whilst some planning dispensations may be given where full compliance with Building Regulations would overtly damage the building’s salient character.
Being the owner of a Protected Structure constitutes stewardship of built heritage, which is both an honour as well as a position of responsibility. The duties of owners are set out in Section 58 of the Planning & zzzzDevelopment Acts, 2000, thus:
“Each owner and each occupier shall, to the extent consistent with the rights and obligations arising out of their respective interests in a protected structure or a proposed protected structure, ensure that the structure, or any element of it which contributes to its special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest, is not endangered.”
In addition to ensuring a Protected Structure’s maintenance and repair, legislation also requires planning permission for some works and alterations to these buildings which would be considered exempted development for non-listed structures. Where new development is proposed in the direct vicinity of these buildings, whether within or outside the ownership boundary, all works, designs and final impacts must be shown to respect and not impinge on the character or use of the listed building.
The field of building conservation is intended not to prevent change, but to manage it. Careful negotiations must be made to allow the historic built environment to remain relevant and functional in the present, whilst retaining its character and significance. In listed buildings, legislative protections apply equally to the building’s interior, exterior, site and curtilage or ancillary structures.
The National Monuments Service, a division of the Department of the Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, oversees the listing and protection of all Monuments which are protected in one of four ways; through listing on the Record of Monuments & Places (RMP), the Register of Historic Monuments (RHM), through designation as a National Monument under preservation order, or a National Monument in the ownership or guardianship of the Minister for the Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht or the local authority. Different levels of protection apply to the monument depending on which of these four designations it has incurred. These lists are populated by both man-made structures and by natural features altered by man. In this way, a Neolithic dolmen, the undulating mound of a Norman motte, and a 17th century residence may all be Monuments. When identified as such, most sites or structures pre-dating the year 1700 are added to one of these lists and are considered to be of Archaeological interest, but there are post-1700 Monuments, as well.
Most Monuments are also Protected Structures and are subject to the legislative protections of both designations. When it is intended to carry out, cause or permit works to a Recorded or Registered Monument, the Minister must be notified two months prior to works’ commencement in order to allow time for comment on the appropriateness of the works or any necessary special protections. For National Monuments, the Minister’s written consent is required for the works to take place. Furthermore, where it is suspected that there may be hidden archaeology in the impact zone of works proposed in a planning application or Section 5 application for Exempted Development, an archaeological assessment, investigation or monitoring is often required either before a decision is granted, or as a condition of planning permission.
Architectural Conservation Areas (or ACAs) differ from the Record of Protected Structures in that they are concerned not with individual buildings, but with the character of a place, area, neighbourhood or town/streetscape. Many parts of historic villages and urban centres are deemed to constitute or possess, as an area, one of the special interest categories as set out for Protected Structures. The legislatively-protected characteristics of each ACA are set out individually by the local authority.
Where a building is within an ACA, any alterations or additions to the exterior of the building, its curtilage or the public realm must take cognisance of and respect the salient character of the ACA as set out in the local Development Plan. For example, where a building is within an ACA, despite its non-listed status the introduction of uPVC windows on the public elevation is unlikely to be deemed appropriate; any proposals for new signage on a commercial building within an ACA must be deemed in keeping with the visual character of the vicinity. In the vicinity of both Protected Structures and ACAs, the architectural design of all new build, its massing, scale and siting must be shown not to have a negative impact on but to contribute to or enhance the local architectural character.
Finally, Residential Conservation Areas, delineated by the Z2 zoning objective, are recognised for their distinctive character and are constituted by extensive groupings of buildings and associated open spaces which are visually important to the character of the local area. The special value of conservation areas lies in the architectural design and scale of these areas and is of sufficient importance to require special care in dealing with development proposals and works by the private sector.
These areas are often delineated by a prevailing building typology or typologies, scale, massing, materials, or perhaps even architectural integrity. More latitude may be found for new development, but special care is required to ensure that any and all impacts on the character of the area have been considered and, where necessary, mitigated.
Sunni L. Goodson is well-versed in the legislation, required documentation and protocol relating to each of the regulatory protections aforementioned. Please get in touch today should you require further guidance, clarification or related services.