Planning permission has been granted to convert a former convent in Skibbereen, Co Cork, which was destroyed in a fire last September, into a €10m development containing commercial facilities and apartments.
The ruling by An Bord Pleanála gives a green light to the development of a four-storey apartment block on the site as well as a small row of terraced houses.
The board rejected an appeal against the decision of Cork County Council to approve the plans by developer Remcoll 3 for a major development on the site of the former Sisters of Mercy convent on North St, Skibbereen.
The fire, which gutted the protected structures occurred on September 29 last year, occurred a few days after the council had granted planning permission for the project.
The plans provide for the renovation of the former chapel for use as commercial facilities, including hot desks, office pods, a multi-purpose room, and a community room, and the change of use of the former convent for use as seven apartments.
The former Mercy Heights School will be converted into four office units, while a new apartment block containing 48 living units will be built in one corner of the site together with a row of six two-storey, terraced houses.
Subject to compliance with a number of planning conditions, the board said the proposed development would be acceptable in terms of height and design and would not seriously injure the visual amenities of the area or impact on adjoining protected structures including St Patrick’s Cathedral and Skibbereen Courthouse.
It ruled the plans were also in accordance with the provisions of the Skibbereen Town Development Plan and acceptable in terms of pedestrian and traffic safety.
An inspector with An Bord Pleanála said the contribution which the development would make to the restoration of buildings of significant architectural heritage in Skibbereen could not be understated.
However, the inspector acknowledged that the ability to replicate structures that had been irrevocably damaged by fire “may prove most difficult to achieve”.
He said the innovative development would provide a range of employment and community-related uses as well as housing and would make a valuable contribution to the regeneration of a town centre site.
A resident of Leap, Co Cork, Aidan O’Brien, had appealed the council’s decision amid concerns about the impact of the development on road safety in the area, particularly in relation to children attending nearby schools.
However, Mr O’Brien stressed that he was in favour of the development once road safety issues were addressed.
Locals had expressed concern at one stage that the site was being earmarked for a direct provision centre as Remcoll was involved in the running of a similar facility in Caherciveen, Co Kerry which was at the centre of a controversy last year.
Remcoll Capital chief executive Paul Collins, reassured residents in the area that the company was interested in developing a site that was “in a pretty shocking state of neglect” for residential and commercial use.
Skibbereen Geriatric Society expressed concern about the impact of the development on the residents of a number of assisted living units it owns next to the former convent.
In a separate appeal, Remcoll was successful in challenging the condition imposed by Cork County Council which required it to omit the top two floors on one side of the apartment block which would reduce the overall number of units by eight.
The company claimed the fire had caused serious damage and the costs associated with such historic buildings were likely to increase dramatically.
It said the loss of the eight units would make the project economically unviable.
Remcoll said it had already reduced the original 52 proposed apartments by four in response to concerns by the council.
Planning permission for another large development on the same site, including a two-screen cinema, shop and restaurant together with 67 apartments, was granted in 2006 but never proceeded to completion, although there is a partially built underground car park in the convent grounds.
Meanwhile, it understood a file relating to the fire has been forwarded to the DPP by gardaí after they identified the individuals responsible for the blaze.