A group of 14 100-year-old derelict cottages in the north Co Dublin seaside village of Portrane will be brought back into use under a €4 million restoration scheme from Fingal County Council.
The houses on Portrane Avenue were owned by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and were previously used to house workers from the nearby St Ita’s psychiatric hospital. However, they have been vacant for up to 20 years, and are in various states of dereliction, with several sustaining severe fire damage, including the collapse of roof structures.
The HSE agreed to hand the homes over to the council to allow them to be redeveloped for social housing. The houses are mainly single-storey two-bed cottages, with two three-bed cottages, and two two-storey houses, one a two bed and one with three bedrooms.
The houses line the entrance avenue to St Ita’s and are part the hospital’s architectural conservation area (ACA), a designation which meant the council had to meet high heritage protection standards in their renewal.
“They are in an architectural conservation area which means we’re restricted as to what we can do, so demolishing those properties was never an option even though some were in very poor condition,” said Robert Burns, the council’s head of housing. “The only route back for them was to restore and conserve the properties. We’ve done a lot of work around bringing them back to their core design. We’ve removed old extensions and anything there that wouldn’t have been good quality, and the properties are being conserved very much in line and in the spirit of how they were built.”
The work, done under the guidance of specialist architectural conservation practitioners, involved recreating the old sash windows, preserving and reinstating all of the old roof tiles, and sourcing matching tiles from salvage yards. The houses were also brought up to modern standards of living, Mr Burns said. “Each house was replumbed and rewired and upgraded with modern heating systems and insulation, all very sympathetically done, taking into account the architectural heritage of the properties.”
It is also an environmentally sustainable project he said. “The most sustainable building you can provide is the one that’s already been built.”
The work is expected to cost between €150,000 and €400,000 per house, depending on their condition with an average cost of €285,000, which compares reasonably favourably with the provision of new housing. However, Mr Burns said the biggest saving was in the time the work has taken.
“From the start February this year, when work began, to when the first people will move into those vacant properties will be about a year. The equivalent time frame for new build could be three, four or even up to five years when you take the planning process into account.”
The project also allowed the council to provide homes at the heart of an existing community. “We have been able to provide good properties in Portrane, which is a very high demand location, and put them back into use very quickly. All of the properties should be back into use by the end of next year, both removing the eyesore of dereliction and adding vibrancy vitality to the village.”
The work is part of the council’s vacant home strategy to bring empty properties into productive use. “Even though Fingal has one of the lowest levels of vacancy in the country, any level of vacancy isn’t acceptable,” Mr Burns said. “There’s also a huge piece of work to be done with privately-owned houses, and even other buildings that might not be houses, to bring them into housing use.”