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Protected Structures

At the moment there are 1446 Protected Structures included in the Westmeath County Development Plan 2014-2020 and 253 in the Athlone Town PLan 2014-2020. These mainly consist of churches, large country houses and various buildings within the towns and villages, which positively contribute to the context and setting of the villages as well as being of individual merit. 

How does a building become a Protected Structure?

Anyone can recommend a building for protection, if it is considered to be of architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social, or technical interest. However the decision to include structures in the RPS can only be made by the elected members of the planning authority. The planning authority must notify the owners and occupiers of the proposed protected structure, the Minister for Environment and Local Government, and other bodies of the proposal. Particulars of additions are put on public display for at least 6 weeks. During which time anyone, including the owner or occupier, is entitled to make comments on such a proposal to the planning authority. The authority is obliged to take these comments into consideration before its elected members decide, within 12 weeks of end of display period, whether or not the structure should be entered onto the RPS. Within two weeks of its decision, the planning authority must notify the owner and occupier of the structure of that decision.

While a structure is a proposed protected structure it has the same protection as a protected structure with regard to the duties and responsibilities of the owners and occupiers.

What obligations fall on owners to ensure the protection of a protected structure?

Each owner and occupier must ensure that neither a protected structure, nor any element of a protected structure that contributes to its special interest, is endangered through harm, decay or damage, whether over a short or long period, through neglect, through direct or indirect means. The protection applies to all parts of the structure that contribute to its character and special interest, including its interior, surrounding land or ‘curtilage’, and any other structures on that land, and their interiors, and all fixtures and features of these structures.

Do special procedures apply to protected structures under the planning system?

How does an owner or occupier know which works require planning permission? Protected Structure status does not preclude development or alteration. However is does require the owner or occupier to consult with the planning authority, either through pre-application discussions, planning application process or declaration, to ensure that elements that make the structure significant are not lost during development. Any works that would affect the character of the structure or any element of the structure that contributes to its special interest will require planning permission. Owners or occupiers of a Protected Structure may request a Declaration from the planning authority. The purpose of this is to clarify in writing the kind of works that could be carried out without materially affecting the character of the structure. These works would not require planning permission. A planning authority will, in general, issue such a declaration within three months of receiving a request. There is no fee for this service.

Are there any measures in place to assist owners and occupiers to preserve a protected structure?

A conservation grant scheme is operated by Planning Authorities, to assist the owner or occupier of a protected structure to undertake necessary works to secure its building fabric. Each planning authority will have a Scheme of Priorities to assist them in assessing applications.

Do planning authorities have special powers in relation to protected structures?

Yes. The planning authority now has greater powers under the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) to ensure the protection of structures listed in the Record of Protected Structures. However, these powers are generally only used in exceptional circumstances when all other avenues have failed.

A planning authority may require an owner or an occupier of a protected structure to carry out works if it considers that the structure is, or may become, endangered. The planning authority will specify the works it considers necessary.

The planning authority also has the power to carry out the works itself and recover its expenses from the owner or occupier. In exceptional circumstances a planning authority may acquire, by agreement or compulsorily, a protected structure if it considers that this is necessary to secure the protection of the structure.

Where a planning authority requires works to be carried out to prevent a protected structure from becoming or continuing to be endangered, the owner or occupier concerned may be eligible for grant assistance as described above.

There is provision in the 2000 Act to impose a substantial fine and/or prison term for those found guilty of damaging a protected structure.

Record Of Protected Structures

Section 57 of the Planning & Development Act provides that any works which would affect the character of a protected structure, or a proposed protected structure will require planning permission, even where those works would normally be exempt under Section 4 (1)(h) of the 2000 Act.

As an owner or occupier of a protected structure you are entitled under the act to request Westmeath County Council to issue a declaration as to the type of works which may or may not be permitted in your structure.

National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

The NIAH is a section within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The work of the NIAH involves identifying and recording the architectural heritage of Ireland, from 1700 to the present day.  NIAH surveys provide the basis for the recommendations of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the planning authorities for the inclusion of particular structures in their Record of Protected Structures (RPS). Click here to view the structures listed on the NIAH for Westmeath.

Architectural Conservation Areas

It is an objective of the Council to preserve the character of places, groups of structures or townscapes of special interest, known as Architectural Conservation Areas (ACA’s), which the planning authority considers are of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest or value, or contribute to the appreciation of protected structures may be included in a Development Plan where considered necessary to preserve their character.