A drone picture from PJ Dunne shows the damage caused to the building in the fire
Efforts must be made urgently to get a ‘watertight cap’ on the fire-damaged Bridge House on John Street to preserve any valuable materials in it, ahead of the coming winter weather.
That’s according to local councillors Malcolm Noonan and David Fitzgerald, who have expressed fears that further damage will be visited on the building.
The property is owned by the Neville Hotels group, however, Kilkenny County Council served a statutory notice to the owners on the Thursday following the fire, and took possession of the site. Under the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964, the local authority has powers to enter the site and make it safe where it presents a danger to people’s safety.
The provisions of the Act include for the recovery by the council of its costs. The site was handed back to the owner after the initial works, but further notices may be served requiring the owner to carry out works to further stabilise and protect the building.
At a meeting of Kilkenny County Council, Cllr Fitzgerald said there was rarely an issue in Kilkenny that had caused as much distress to the public. He called on the council to ‘work proactively with the owners to get a roof on it’, and in a matter of days, not weeks.
“The weather is about to break,” he warned.
“I understand there is a valuable ceiling still largely intact, and it will be lost if we don’t get a watertight cap on [the building].”
Senior engineer Simon Walton had previously informed members that a 17th Century ceiling remains mostly intact inside the building. However, it is at risk from the elements as the roof is totally destroyed.
Cllr Malcolm Noonan acknowledged the work being done to stabilise the building, and asked that as much care be taken as possible during any removal of material. He said the council and the National Monuments Service should work with the building's owners to try and restore it.
The Green Party councillor also said he hoped there would be a role for the Civic Trust also. Mr Walton said the National Monuments Service had been on the site since Thursday, and had expressed satisfaction with what the council was doing.
At Monday’s full council meeting, the discussion of the building’s fate prompted a wider debate on restrictions and regulations on Kilkenny’s historic buildings.
Cllr Fitzgerald said that, in the wake of the fire, he had been contacted by a number of people involved with the Bridge House in the past who had attempted to redevelop it. He said that two of them said they got ‘extremely negative support from Kilkenny County Council’, and they had been ‘tied up with red tape’.
He asked the chief executive to raise this matter in her discussions with planning staff.
“We need to get the balance right. And we didn’t get it right in this case,” he said.
Cllr Fitzgerald’s comments were echoed by his colleague Cllr Pat Dunphy, who said there was no point in having protected structure regulations too tight if the end result was the loss of the building.
“We want to preserve older houses,” he said.
“A lot of them are falling because people can’t spend the type of money the planners require them to.”