Friday 29 April 2011

Courts body to meet 'alarmed' residents

THE COURTS Service has agreed to meet local residents who have been objecting to plans for a new courthouse in Wexford which they believe would overwhelm the town’s mid-19th century Municipal Buildings.

The residents have the support of Wexford-born writers including John Banville and Colm Toibín, who were “saddened and alarmed to learn the much-loved Municipal Buildings is to be subsumed into the new Wexford courthouse”.

Built as Tate’s School in 1867, the Municipal Buildings in Wygram became the headquarters of Wexford Town Council from the 1950s to 2007, when the 1.5-acre property was sold to the Courts Service for €3 million as a site for Wexford’s courthouse.

Permission was granted last November under part nine of the 2000 Planning Act, under which there is no right of third-party appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Also, because it was a “security” project, only limited information was made publicly available.

The local Davitt Road North/Windmill Residents Group complained the Municipal Buildings – a protected structure – would be overwhelmed by the proposed courthouse and much of the open site turned into a car park for judges and court staff.

“Traffic is a major problem in this residential area. The vast majority of residences are of a very modest nature and size, with modest spaces to front and back,” the group said, adding that their properties would be overlooked by the proposed courthouse block.

“The local residents were kept totally in the dark until a fait accompli was presented to them,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Bernie Lloyd. “To date, we have not met any OPW [Office of Public Works] or Court Service officials, and it’s not for the want of trying.”

But John Mahon, the Court Service’s head of estates and buildings, told The Irish Times they will be “engaging with the local residents” to assure them their concerns had been taken on board.

The proposed courthouse, designed by Newenham Mulligan Architects, would incorporate the L-shaped Municipal Buildings for use as offices and erect a new block to the rear, with four courts stacked on top of each other.

Michael Grace, chief architect for the project, said the contemporary building would not be “out of keeping with the scale of courthouses in other county towns” and, in Wexford, the much larger scale Opera House “happily co-exists with houses”.

Although the relevant drawings under the part nine application were not available for public inspection, he said the new building would be at least 22m from housing and its windows faced away from them or were opaque. The complex would extend to 4,680sq m and is likely to cost between €12 million and €15 million. “Funding is not in place, but we’re pressing for it to go to tender before the end of 2011,” Mr Mahon said.

Michael Haugh, assistant principal architect at the OPW, said a number of options had been considered to create a “coherent” court complex and the Municipal Buildings “ticked all the boxes”.

Irish Times

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