Photo by Sarah Taaffe-Maguire

At the corner of Aungier Street and Longford Street, in a bustling area, during a housing shortage, there’s a big block of vacant buildings. They’re just sitting there. Why?

The whole site is owned by a company called Kesteven Ltd. That includes 71-75 Aungier Street, as well as 17-19 Longford Street and 6-14 Upper Stephen Street, according to a planning application and land registry records.

They have a big plan for it, but it hasn’t worked out so far.

What’s Kesteven Ltd?

There is only one Kesteven Limited that comes up in a Companies Registration Office database search. Its directors are Charles McManus and John Pryor, both of whom list addresses in the UK on the company’s documents.

Kesteven is an Irish-registered company, but it doesn’t have the kind of office that has a phone number or email address. Instead, its registered office address is that of corporate law firm Eversheds, which provides company-secretary services.

No one from the Eversheds company-secretary department replied to my queries. However, planning consultancy O’Connor Whelan sought planning permission on Kesteven’s behalf, and they were more forthcoming.

The Plan

O’Connor Whelan sought permission in November 2015 to knock down numbers 71-73 Aungier Street, 6, 7, 13, 14 and 14A Upper Stephen Street and the “former dancehall building” to the rear of Aungier Street.

In place of these buildings, they wanted to construct a mix of student accommodation and shops, with buildings up to seven storeys tall. There were to be 30 “house units” with a total of 300 ensuite bedrooms, and communal kitchen facilities.

And the plan was to have five retail units on the ground floor level, on Aungier Street and Longford Street. Among these was to be a “food store”, including “an ancillary off-licence sales area”.

The planning application also sought a gym, 138 bike spaces, gardens, roof gardens, and private roof terraces as part of the student accommodation.

As the dilapidated shop fronts show, planning was rejected in April this year.

The council didn’t think the application had provided “sufficient justification” to demolish the buildings on Upper Stephen Street.

Crucially, and tellingly, the council describe the site as a “sensitive location” because of the proximity to two “recorded monuments” (the sites of the Church of St Peter and the Aungier Street Theatre) and its location as being “within a conservation area and zone of archaeological constraint”.

The proposed build, with its “podium-style development” at the centre, and “large ground floor retail floor plate” would “seriously impact on the historical significance of the site and its importance in reflecting the chronological history of the city of Dublin”, the council found.

The historical significance of the site, and a belief that the site is important to understanding how the city has evolved, was laid out in submissions from the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

Proximity to Dublin Castle was another problem. According to the Irish Examiner, the Office of Public Works had concerns that the roof gardens could pose a security risk for events at Dublin Castle.

There is a specific kind of development required in the area. According to the reasons for rejection the application, the area has a “Z5 zoning objective”.

The aim is to “consolidate and facilitate the development of the central area, and to identify, reinforce and strengthen and protect its civic design character and dignity”.

As the area is seen as historic, it looks like it’s harder to get permission. The “setting and character” of the area and its “amenities” would suffer “seriously injury” if the development went ahead.

Clearly Dublin Castle and monuments in the area need to be catered for, meaning plans may not be approved. Although student accommodation has been approved just a little way down Aungier Street, right near the site.

What Now?

Vacancy is not new for the buildings.

Some Neck Guitars left 73 Aungier Street and relocated to number 5, across the road, because they needed more space. Owner Owen McQuail recalled number 74 Aungier Street being vacant for 12 or 13 years.

Kesteven Ltd have not given up on bringing the buildings back into use. They have launched an appeal, which is now in the oral stages of hearing.

Alan Whelan of O’Connor Whelan, the agents for the application, point out that the “buildings have been neglected over a long period of time and have lacked any investment”.

Numbers 74 and 75 Aungier Street “are in extremely poor condition and are not habitable or easily made habitable”. He said the same of numbers 73 and 72.

The aim, though, is to “bring the site back into use” and “redevelop” it.

Sarah Taaffe-Maguire is a freelance journalist. She is a regular contributor to RTÉ Arena and has written for multiple publications, including the Irish Times, and Totally Dublin.

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