PROPOSALS to expand Limerick city's planned 350m Opera Centre shopping complex are likely to cause controversy because the revised project would involve the demolition of Georgian houses earlier earmarked for restoration by An Bord Pleanala. Regeneration Development's revised blueprint proposes the demolition of all of one side of Ellen Street including three houses which the planning board ruled should be conserved and repaired when it sanctioned the original planning application.
The project involves the restoration of the birthplace of internationally-famous singing star Catherine Hayes who was born at 4 Patrick Street in 1818. The building will be converted into a museum celebrating the life of the diva and will be administered by the Limerick Civic Trust.
The new proposals also involve the demolition of the Lucky Lamp public house, a cut stone building originally intended for retention.
The scale of the project will now be dramatically extended from 28,000sq m to 38,000sq m by including the Granary Building on Michael Street and the Old Town Hall on Rutland Street, both listed buildings, in the revised plans. The new application also proposes doubling the number of car park spaces originally planned to 1,000. Brown Thomas and Marks and Spencer have both been mentioned as possible tenants for the two anchor stores which will now have a combined floor area of 16,000sq m.
"It's important to stress the positive nature of this development, " says Robert Bloomer of agent Savills HOK. "It's exactly what Limerick needs. The retailers we're talking to can't wait to get into decent space in the shopping centre."
"Sorting out the proposed demolition issue will certainly be a bone of contention, " says local councillor, Kathleen Leddin. "People are anxious that the centre gets permission, but at the same time there will be concern at the prospect of losing those buildings. It's a development that Limerick needs so a balance will have to be sought."
"I'm perplexed at the decision of the developers to ignore the previous decision of An Bord Pleanala in regard to the destruction of important heritage houses on Ellen Street, especially when there would appear to be absolutely no necessity for this, " says Liam Irwin, president of the Thomond Historical Society.
"This is an area of architectural conservation not a green field site and needs to be treated in a sensitive and enlightened manner. The former scheme as approved was a reasonable compromise between heritage concerns and the need for economic regeneration of the area and it is regrettable that an attempt is now being made to destroy this consensus."