It’s not just Ireland’s newest build of unfinished estates that requires maintenance, restoration and completion work. The Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) have just released a statement, reported in the Irish Times, concerning the fate of some of Ireland’s historic buildings, such as the Hume Street Hospital in Dublin, bought by developed Michael Kelly for €30 million in 2006. They note that such buildings are suffering in two respects. First, that some of them are being left to the mercy of the elements, with nature doing a fair amount of damage to the structures. Second, that some of them are being visited by plunderers and vandals. For example, in the Hume Street case, the roof has been plundered of lead and building of copper piping, and no doubt ornamental fittings and other items. Belcamp College, on the north side of Dublin, was recently ransacked and set on fire.

The RHA strongly criticise NAMA for failing to ensure that developers with properties in their portfolio properly secure and maintain historic buildings. They argue that ‘conduct of omission as in itself an act of vandalism.’ They have accused the organisation of ‘not taking its legal responsibility seriously in regard to appropriate protection of several historic buildings currently under their ownership’ and said its ‘response to our approaches to them . . . has been evasive and ambiguous’. NAMA it said, would not admit to possessing the loan book on certain historic properties and would not any commitment with regards to safeguarding them. In this sense, NAMA is staying true to form, as it’s hardly a paragon of openness and transparency.

NAMA has responded by stating that it does not directly own any of the properties, only the loan books, and a spokesperson for the agency said that ‘it is incorrect to say that Nama has a direct responsibility in this area’, although it ‘has directly taken action with the property owners or with the relevant authorities to try to ensure that the properties are properly secured.’

However, properly secured is not the same as properly preserved and in response, the RHA has said that ‘section 141 of the 2009 Act that established Nama gave it the authority to seek “entry and maintenance” orders in the District Court to secure any building “at risk from trespassers or vandalism”.’ They would clearly like to see NAMA be much more proactive in forcing developers to secure and preserve Ireland’s architectural heritage.  The alternative route will be, as with the Hume Street Hospital, seeking planning enforcement notices to try to force both the developer and NAMA to take action.  That action has been taken by Dublin City Council and it requires repairs to be carried out by April 29th (this Friday).  Having to serve notice on NAMA to ensure saving some of our most historic buildings is not an ideal way to proceed, but it might well be the principle route open to the RHA and others unless a more proactive approach is adopted by the agency and developers.

Rob Kitchin