From top: The demolition of the historic Sextant Bar in Cork last Friday; Dan Boyle
Last weekend a landmark building was demolished in Cork. Its demolition was met with some surprise and a great deal of unhappiness by many people.
Not by me. I had anticipated its demise despite being vehemently opposed to its inevitability.
Its destruction is indicative as to why, and to whom, laws on development benefit for what purposes.
The Sextant Bar was not a protected structure. It was listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Within the existing Cork City Development Plan it was included as being part of an Architectural Conservation Area. It formed part of a significant streetscape.
The legislation that has allowed this vandalism is that which allows for Strategic Housing Development. This sees developments, which are for one hundred or more units, go directly to Bord Pleanala for decision. The role of the local authority being circumvented in this process.
That said, in relation to the Sextant Bar, Cork City Council has not been discouraging in allowing the destruction of this building.
With previous developments the Council had encouraged a practice of facadism, where the front elevation features of previous significant stand alone buildings were incorporated into new buildings. They have been horrible.
Instead of encouraging to build around rather than build upon, we see instead a policy of building without.
The economic foundation of encouraging any development for any reason has always been shakey. In a post COVID World it has become even more so.
Development at what was once was the Cork Docklands has been stop start. Recent years have seen a flurry of activity. This has been mainly office development, which lately has been followed by high end apartment accommodation.
Where this strategy is becoming undone is through anticipated office tenants not being available to the extent that was thought possible. An immediate uncertain economic outlook, joined with the emergence of working from home as a viable option for many, has undermined these projections.
Less companies occupying the provided office space means less well paid employees seeking nearby accommodation. We may be, and most probably are, disregarding buildings of interest being replaced by mausoleums of steel and glass, for no actual purpose.
At what price to the character of our city? The destruction of The Sextant Bar has come at a price, but perhaps it might also be a down payment towards a more sane policy of better integrating new development with existing built heritage.
In 2022 there will be a newly agreed Cork City Development Plan. As we work towards its drafting this plan, the challenge is to achieve the type of public engagement where demolitions like this not only do not surprise, they do and should not happen.
One way around this unacceptable approach to town planning would be to introduce a site value tax, that would help inhibit the incentive to remove or replace.
What we are losing is not being improved by is being proposed in its place. In terms of learning from our architectural history we seem intent to reduce it to rubble. Damned if I can see the value in that.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pics: Twitter/Larry Cummins