Campaigners want transfer of Georgian villa to public ownership

Heritage campaigners have backed calls for the fire-gutted remains of a listed Georgian villa to be taken into public ownership.

The Grange Frankfield Partnership in Cork, which has been campaigning for years for the conservation and preservation of historic Vernon Mount House on the southern outskirts of Cork City, said they fully support Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton’s suggestion yesterday — on the first anniversary of a devastating fire — for a public takeover.

“It’s an absolute no- brainer,” said partnership spokesman Ger Lehane.

Ms D’Alton said Cork County Council should use available legislation to acquire the property, and recover from the house owners the almost €170,000 the State spent on roof repairs on the property before last year’s devastating fire.

“If they had CPO’d [compulsory purchase order] it years ago, as they were asked, we wouldn’t be looking at a shell now of what was one of Cork’s gems,” she said.

She also said she has yet to receive a reply from council officials about the legal advice they have received about a possible prosecution arising out the management of the house in the years before the blaze.

Gardaí launched an extensive and detailed investigation into the cause of the blaze and identified several individuals who were in the property on the night of July 24, 2016.

Garda Supt Charlie Barry said up to 17 juveniles were cautioned under the Juvenile Liaison Office procedure. He added that an extensive file in relation to several individuals aged over 18 was subsequently submitted to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and directions are still awaited.

In the weeks after the fire, council officials met with conservation consultants appointed by Arts and Heritage Minister, Heather Humphreys, who indicated that the structure should be stabilised and preserved for its architectural and historical importance.

The council later commissioned a survey to determine the viability of stabilising the structure with a view to preserving the shell.

It is understood the report, complete with recommendations and costings, is near completion.

Mr Lehane said he believes the report will recommend the preservation of the house.

He also cited a report to council by engineers involved in the design of the proposed pedestrian/cycleway linking the Grange Road to the Tramore Valley Park, which said if the house became an integral part of, or had access to the Tramore Valley Park, it would improve prospects for its restoration for a suitable cultural or leisure use.

Mr Lehane said that both reports underline the need for the house to be taken in public ownership.

“It is imperative that the council takes the property into public ownership to guarantee its past and future as an important part of Cork history,” he said.

The historic house, with its striking curvilinear fronted facade, dates from 1784 and was named after Mount Vernon on the Potomac River, home of the first US president, George Washington.

It was bought in 1997 by a consortium led by San Diego-based IT expert Jonathon Moss but it fell into disrepair when Cork County Council refused planning permission to redevelop the house and build houses/apartments on the site.

It was included in the World Monuments Fund List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

Following last year’s fire, the owners said they were devastated at the damage and felt that the security they have arranged at the site had “fully protected” it against random vandalism.

Mr Moss did not respond to requests for comment.


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