Limerick City and County Council has had its plans to compulsorily acquire the former RIC barracks in the centre of Patrickswell rejected following a successful objection by the property’s owner.
An Bord Pleanála refused an application by the council for a compulsory acquisition order on the three-storey building located on the town’s main street under the Derelict Sites Act.
The building, constructed around 1890 to house the Royal Irish Constabulary, is rated as of regional importance in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage but is not a listed building.
The owner of the former barracks, Christopher Fitzgerald, who acquired the property in May 2016, said he had undertaken work to make the building safe as well as clearing rubbish and overgrowth from the site after it had been left vacant and neglected for the previous 15 years.
Mr Fitzgerald claimed his constitutional rights and attempts to redevelop the building were being affected by the council’s attempt to place a compulsory purchase order on the property.
He pointed out that he had painted the building and maintained flower pots and the lawn on the property.
Mr Fitzgerald said he had also resisted the council’s earlier plans to have the property placed on the list of protected structures when councillors voted against the proposed designation in October 2017.
He explained he had unsuccessfully tried to acquire an adjoining site but had secured finance to develop his plans for the former barracks last year. However, these plans were halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, he claimed his application for planning permission also demonstrated his intention to refurbish and reuse the building.
Mr Fitzgerald said the council had also not made it clear why it wished to acquire the site and what it intended to do with the former barracks.
The council said it had been contacted by community groups and local councillors who were concerned about the condition of the building.
Despite the fact that the property had been boarded up and other efforts to improve its appearance, the council said it still regarded the site as derelict.
It claimed the owner had adequate time to bring the property back into use and was using the planning system “as a shield” from legislation governing derelict sites.
The council said a recently published community plan highlighted the issue of dereliction in Patrickswell and it was currently progressing the cases of 10 derelicts sites in the town.
However, the board noted that planning permission had recently been granted for a change of use of the former barracks to two residential properties notwithstanding the current neglected condition of the site which was detracting from the character and appearance of the area.
“The acquisition of the site by the local authority is not necessary in order to render the site non-derelict,” it ruled.
One of the board’s planning inspectors said she regarded the council’s actions as “unreasonable”.