Future of fire-damaged Vernon Mount to be decided

The future of one of the country’s iconic houses, which has been repeatedly damaged by vandals and arsonists, is likely to be decided shortly when consultants report to Cork County Council on how much it will cost to stabilise the building.

The burnt-out remains of Vernon Mount. Picture: Larry Cummins

The 18th century neoclassical Vernon Mount house at Frankfield, Douglas, was extensively damaged by fire on July 24 last year.

Prior to that Cork County Council had put significant money into maintaining the unoccupied building.

Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton asked the county council to use powers under the Local Government Act 2000 to take the protected structure into public ownership. She told fellow councillors that the owners of Vernon Mount had failed on an ongoing basis to uphold their responsibility to maintain and secure the building.

Ms D’Alton said the council should also seek to have the owners, who live abroad, reimburse it for work it carried out restoring the roof in 2012 and 2014.

The house was purchased as a development opportunity in 1997, but was boarded up after a failed planning application. In 2008, it was identified on the World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Buildings.

“I am now asking that Cork County Council would do something the Irish Georgian Society, An Taisce and the Grange-Frankfield Partnership have asked for and that’s to use its powers of CPO [compulsory purchase order] and take Vernon Mount into public ownership,” said Ms D’Alton.

Mona Hallinan, the council’s conservation officer, said consulting engineers David Kelly Partnership had been appointed to prepare a structural survey and costings for the stabilisation of the structure.

Ms Hallinan said she expected the report to be completed imminently and no decision could be made on Vernon Mount’s future until the full details of the report had been made available to the council.

She said the council will also seek advice from its planning and heritage departments before making a final decision.

Ms D’Alton said the delay in taking serious action was sending out the entirely wrong message to owners of protected structures.

Social Democrats councillor Joe Harris said he agreed with her and proposed that the council get tough with owners in such cases.

Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey said he expected the cost of stabilising the building to be “significant.”

“There’s a serious decision to see if this council wants to invest serious money in protecting what we may not be able to protect,” Mr Lucey said.

He also said he would inform councillors of the legal advice he’d received on the matter when the consultant’s report was finalised.

“ I think it appropriate as taxypayers’ money was invested in it we would now get that back,” said Ms D’Alton.

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