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Builders on the corner of Mill Street and Blackpitts looked busy on Tuesday morning, wrestling in the rain with one of the security fences that marked off a construction site.
This is the corner where The Tenters pub has stood for years, rotting, next to where the old Craftworks building was.
Now it is at the edge of a big development that includes a 202-bed hotel, in which, according to The Sunday Times, businessman Denis O’Brien is a major investor. And it’s next door to a site slated for a 400-bed student accommodation block.
The developer had been planning to preserved the historic pub’s facade and the old Craftworks’ stone arch. But now the top of the arch seems to have fallen down, and the pub is to be toppled too and replaced with an imitation.
Earlier this year, the hotel project’s developer, BAM Property, applied for permission to knock down the pub’s facade and build a replica. It was rotten, the application said.
Dublin City Council gave them permission, and not everybody is happy. (BAM Property didn’t respond to my requests for comment.)
An Taisce filed an appeal in mid-October with An Bord Pleanala. In it, the heritage group argued that pulling down and rebuilding The Tenters would mean a loss in the historic fabric of the streetscape in this former industrial corner of the Liberties.
As An Taisce sees it, there hasn’t been enough evidence presented that the building has real structural damage, rather than just some decay after being vacant for a decade.
A replica just isn’t the same as the real thing, said Kevin Duff of An Taisce. “It’s important to keep the old building because it’s a connection with the past,” he said.
“It is the same building the local people used 50 years ago or 100 years ago (…),” he said. “So it keeps the collective memory of the Mill Street area. If you go to a museum you don’t want to see a copy of a famous Italian painting. You want to see the real one.”
It was built around 1850 and remodelled around 1925, but despite being a distinctive landmark, it is not a protected structure.
Neither is the old Craftworks building next door. The front of that, with its archway entrance, is supposed to be retained, but it looks as if the top has fallen down. Builders at the site on Tuesday said they’re still planning to keep that wall, though.
The images that BAM Property submitted to support their application show that the building has deteriorated in the nine years that it has been empty. There is water damage, and there are cracks around the windows and plants sprouting from the walls.
While there’s an argument over the degree of damage, some are unhappy that buildings are allowed to fall into any state of disrepair.
At the moment, the council’s main tool to deal with dereliction is the Derelict Sites Act, but it is an after-the-horse-has-bolted intervention.
That’s why An Taisce has been pushing for a “site value tax”, said Duff. If this were brought in, if a site with a building were not being used or maintained, its owner would still have to pay the same tax as a site next door that was being maintained and used.
“So it creates a level playing field where an owner is induced to sell on or repair a disused building, rather than simply doing nothing with it for years and leaving it rot,” said Duff.
“So a building like The Tenters pub would not just be able to sit there empty and unused for years anymore.”