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Church in the Lurch

Developer TIO, including Nama, denies damaging church foundations and fabric and An Taisce's allegation it jumped the gun on commencement notice and works on St Mary's Church in Dublin's docklands

The foundations of the historic St Mary’s church on Dublin’s City Quay are in danger of being undermined by the construction of a giant office block on its neighbouring site, according to local residents. The site is being developed by Targeted Investment Opportunities (TIO), a consortium of Bennett Construction, Oaktree Capital and NAMA (a public agency).

On 5 July parishioners claim that they were “shocked”, during devotions, by vibrations in the church. During a visit by local people and Village that same day significant vibrations from pile-driving on the site could be clearly felt in the central aisle. Lawyers for the developers deny this. The work was stopped later that day to allow for consultations between solicitors for the church and the developers.

The development also threatens to block light that now comes through the diamond-glazed windows on the side of the church closest to it. Light on one side of the church will be entirely blocked.

While permission for site clearance has been given, work has started – led by two large piledrivers – on foundations for the offices. It is unclear if this has been authorised.The developer denies that its work has or will damage church property and claims that the works carried out so far have not triggered the need for a commencement notice under buildings regulations. In May An Taisce complained that work had started in breach of conditions under planning regulations, requiring submission of a construction management plan and landscaping plan before the work started.

Photo montage of new development on City Quays
Photo montage of new development on City Quays

According to St Mary’s Parish Association Chairman, John Nolan, the work has already seen interference with the door to a long established right of way improperly blocked by the contractors, though the developer’s lawyers claim it is in fact a cul de sac. He claims that cracks on the internal walls and ceiling of the church have only appeared since the work started in recent weeks.

Nolan, who runs the Dublin Stevedores company and is a native of the area said that the Parish Committee was not aware of the scale of the development intended on the neighbouring site and that the works have already had a serious impact both on the church property and on the children of the primary school on Gloucester Street.

“We do not object to an office development on the site. In fact, we welcome it as it has lain derelict for a long time. However, we are concerned about possible damage to the church property, the blocking of a doorway and a right of way on the side of the church and the manner in which the construction work has affected churchgoers, residents and children in the school”, Nolan said.

The St Mary’s primary school which adjoins the Church had to be evacuated during examinations in late June due to the construction work, while a child was hospitalised after it was alleged that he fell into a hole dug by the builders on the site.

An Taisce originally objected to the planning application to Dublin City Council, based on the scale of the nine-storey office and its impact on the church, a protected structure located in a conservation area.

“St Mary’s is a protected structure and in considering a planning application the council is supposed to look at its special character and the impact on its setting of any such development”, Ian Lumley of An Taisce told Village.5-village-july-2016-final

Following an appeal by An Taisce of the council’s May 2015 decision to grant planning, a Bord Pleanála inspector recommended that the scheme should be cut back by three storeys on its western side adjoining the church so protecting light access to the building.

However, the recommendation was rejected by the Bord and permission for the full development was upheld later last year. An Bord Pleanála contended that it could not adjudicate on the blocking of light into the church as that is not a planning matter.

Following the visit to the site on 5th July, the developers agreed to suspend pile-driving for six days. In a letter written in response to a detailed complaint from church solicitors, Mason Hayes and Curran, on the same day, A&L Goodbody, solicitors for TIO, claimed that its client had complied with all planning conditions and building regulations but conceded:

“However, as a gesture of goodwill and at a significant cost and inconvenience our client agrees to postpone these works until Monday 11th July 2016 to allow your client to take technical advice…..subject to you, your client, its architects and engineer agreeing to meet with our client, its architect, its engineer and us on or prior to Friday 8th July, 2016”. It is not clear if it is now applying for a commencement notice.

Aesthetics and history are now in the hands of the law.

By Frank Connolly