A “masterplan” is to be prepared to develop a former psychiatric hospital campus in Cork City after a disused unit was gutted in a suspected arson attack.
Garda inquiries into the fire at St Kevin’s unit, on the grounds of the former Our Lady’s Mental Hospital site in Shanakiel, are continuing and structural reports on the gutted building are awaited.
However, Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald said that, a week on from the devastating fire, it is vital the city moves quickly to address the future of the site which he described as an “emergency planning and environmental health issue”.
“This requires an immediate response,” said Mr Fitzgerald. “The site has to be considered as one major development site. It is an emergency, it is a challenge and it is a crisis situation.”
He told colleagues at Monday’s council meeting that work on an “area action plan” for the campus which will involve representatives of site owners, the HSE, is under way. However, he said major infrastructural challenges, particularly in relation to access roads, will have to be considered on the site, which is close to Apple’s European headquarters and almost entirely zoned for residential development.
Sinn Féin councillor Thomas Gould led criticism of the HSE for its management of the St Kevin’s unit which had been vacant since 2002.
“It is nothing short of a disgrace. I was never more disillusioned as a public representative as I was after the fire,” he said.
Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill accused him of “peddling populist drivel” and having no regard for the economic realities of the last decade.
Fianna Fáil councillor Tom O’Driscoll said when such buildings fall into disrepair, the outcome becomes almost inevitable. Although Fianna Fáil councillor Tim Brosnan described St Kevin’s as an Irish version of a “concentration camp”, he said it holds significant development potential if state funding can be secured.
Meanwhile, the Irish Georgian Society said following a series of fires in protected structures in Cork — including at St Kevin’s, Vernon Mount and Fortwilliam House — it will support research into the importance of and threats to the city’s architectural heritage.
“Despite the extraordinary wealth of Cork’s Georgian and Victorian architectural heritage much research remains to be carried out,” a spokesman said.
“When compared with our knowledge of the Fitzwilliam, Gardiner and Aungier estates who built and commissioned many of Dublin city’s squares, streets, terraces and great houses, we know little of Cork.”
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