Rugby tourism attraction kicked to touch; An Taisce objects to demolition of Georgian buildings in Limerick

Plans for a new €10m tourist attraction in Limerick dedicated to rugby have been kicked to touch following an objection to An Bord Pleanála that the development will threaten the city’s rich Georgian heritage.

An Taisce has called on the planning appeals authority to overturn the decision of Limerick City and County Council to approve planning permission for the proposed International Rugby Experience in Limerick’s city centre.

The development requires the demolition of several Georgian buildings on O’Connell Street and Cecil Street, to make way for a 30,000 sq ft multi-media visitor centre celebrating the history of rugby. A corner shop within the buildings due to be demolished, Fine’s Jewellers, is being retained.

The seven-storey building, with a two-storey portico, will also house exhibition and education space as well as a shop and café at ground floor level. The proposed 32-metre high visitor centre is located in an Architectural Conservation Area.

In its appeal against the development, the Limerick branch of An Taisce said that while it welcomed the plans for a centre that celebrated the bond between Limerick and rugby, it opposed the demolition of three early 19th century Georgian buildings which were protected “from inappropriate actions” under the Limerick City Development Plan.

An Taisce said the council regarded the area as “the core heart” of the city’s Georgian heritage and the buildings should have been regarded as “candidate protected structures” because of their regional architectural and artistic importance.

It accused the local authority of not taking sufficient account of its obligations to protect buildings in an architectural conservation area.

An Taisce said the council also appeared to have ignored a submission by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that the existing buildings, while altered, retained “sufficient architectural heritage special interest as justifies their retention and appropriate adaptation”.

It also expressed concern that the proposed visitor centre “substantially breaks the established parapet height of this side of O’Connell Street” and risked setting a precedent in an architectural conservation area.

“If this proposal goes ahead in its present form it will undermine the work of public representatives and officials who, after lengthy consultation, adopted policies for the conservation of these buildings and streets,” An Taisce said.

It claimed the demands that the council had placed on other developers in the past would appear at best unnecessary and even vexatious, if the visitor centre was allowed go ahead as currently designed.

An Taisce insisted there was much to commend about the project, including its design, which it said could enhance many other parts of the city, including the central business district which was outside the conservation area.

Former Lions, Ireland and Munster captain Paul O’Connell is chairman of the board behind the project.

The visitor centre, which was scheduled to open in early 2019, has received initial funding of €10m from Limerick-born businessman J P McManus.

Niall McLaughlin, the London-based architect who designed the proposed visitor centre, defended the height of the building claiming “it is an expression of a local, regional and national passion: The game of rugby”.


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