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From falling masonry to risk of collapse: 103 buildings on Cork's 'dangerous structures' list

In the last two years a number of people have been injured by falling masonry from Cork city buildings.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

CORK CITY HAS 103 active complaints about dangerous buildings and structures listed by the local council in its register, documents obtained by The Journal show.

The categories range from masonry in danger of falling to fullscale risk of collapse. On one busy street, Bridge Street in the city centre, there are five buildings at risk of falling down.

On the city’s main thoroughfare, St Patrick Street, there is a building with dangerous plasterwork at risk of plummeting to the street.

There are also problems on popular nightlife locations such as Princes Street, Liberty Street and Oliver Plunkett Street, with some entries with notes attached that the Fire Service attended the scene. 

Council officials have also been forced to close footpaths on North Main Street as well as other locations.  

The danger is not just limited to the main shopping district with dangerous buildings listed across the city including at Broad Lane and High Street on the Douglas Road.

The register of dangerous buildings was released to The Journal in a Freedom of Information Request. Cork City Council refused to release engineering reports as part of a separate FOI request. 

Our investigation into the state of Cork city’s buildings followed a catalogue of incidents in the last two years – which included two incidents in which pedestrians were injured.

Separately, just last week on Tuesday 10 August, Cornmarket Street, close to St Patrick Street and Grand Parade was blocked by gardaí and firefighters as an unstable window was at risk of falling on to pedestrians.   

That resulted in two fire brigade tenders attending the scene as gardaí sealed off the area.

In April of this year, the documents show, masonry fell on to North Main Street and firefighters using a hydraulic lift were tasked with removing other lose building fragments. 

cork-ireland-16th-dec-2019-chunk-of-concrete-falls-from-building-on-st-patricks-street-cork-city-just-after-1pm-today-a-chunk-of-concrete-dropped-from-the-top-of-debenhams-onto-st-patricks-stree Fire Brigade personnel dealing with a dangerous building on St Patrick Street. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

In March bricks fell from a building on Grand Parade, while another building was sealed off on nearby Tuckey Street as its walls bulged. 

That incident happened a short few metres from a major collapse that happened in 2019 when the Hosford Bakery premises fell.  

In Daunt Square, at the top of Patrick Street, in May of 2020 two people were injured by falling facades and window sills.

Similarly there has been an incident in which emergency engineering works were required to keep a building upright on Marlboro Street.

A woman also sustained injuries on Patrick Street in September 2019 when she was struck by falling masonry.

In December 1999, a woman walking on Washington Street, was killed when masonry fell from a building. 

Marsh

An emergency services source, who has attended a number of incidents, said the high number of older buildings in the city, combined with Cork’s tidal estuary topography, were contributing factors.

The city – known in Irish as Corcaigh, which is derived from corcach meaning ‘marsh’ – was originally a city of canals and rivers. 

Maps from the 1700s show Cork’s main streets of Grand Parade, South Mall and St Patrick’s Street as well as other nearby locations, were in fact rivers or other waterways.

Screenshot (31) The 1774 Connor's map of Cork City showing the many canals and waterways where the present day streets lie today. Source: Cork City Library

The streets were drained or culverted over in the 1800s and the city centre became an island. Some reports regarding the older structures in the city suggest that wooden piles were driven into the wet marshland to construct buildings.  

Speaking to The Journal councillors Terry Shanahan and Kieran McCarthy both believe that the marsh maybe a small factor in the collapses but both said there are other forces more likely to blame for the current state of the city’s buildings. 

“The marsh theory is a cop out, there would be similar issues in Dublin and Limerick, we’re not unique and the issue of dereliction is not unique. There may be some historical influence, the whole idea that Cork evolved as opposed to be planned.

“St Finbarr, if he was making the city again, might have said to push it back up the hill a bit but no, it’s more to do with the influence people and building owners have on the structures,” Shanahan said.

“I’ve been a member of the city council for 23 years and this problem is going on for all of that time. 

“There are a lot of buildings protected, very little can be done with them and there are very little in grants available for them to be refurbished by the owner.

“I’ve noticed over the years that the buildings are just being left to go to wreck and ruin because it is not economically viable for the owners to do them up in keeping with the protection orders,” he said. 

patrick-street-cork-ireland Cork's St Patrick Street. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Shanahan said that initiatives like Living Over The Shop and other strategies were devised by the council to ensure that people occupy city centre streets. 

There have also been a number of projects by the City Council to take on dilapidated structures and transform them into social housing. 

Glib solution

Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) have been mooted as a possible solution to some of the problem buildings however Shanahan doesn’t share that view.

“There is a call to CPO these buildings, but where are the Council going to get the money to do that and then get the money also to refurbish them? It’s a glib solution.

“There are all sorts of problems also in finding the owners of these properties. A lot of the owners have died and there is a lot of legal work required to find who now owns it. 

“That blocks the path and it is very difficult for the Council to progress with solving these difficulties by engaging with the owners when you can’t find the owner.” 

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Shanahan has called for greater investment from central Government, higher fines for dereliction and an acceptance that not all buildings can be maintained. 

“We need to get to a point where we accept that a lot of these buildings will have to be knocked regardless of their history, we need to be pragmatic on it. We need to decide what can be saved, and what can’t be.” 

cork-ireland-11th-dec-2020-shoppers-take-to-city-centre-ahead-of-weekend-rush-cork-city-cork-city-centre-was-filled-with-shoppers-getting-in-some-christmas-shopping-ahead-of-the-weekend-rush-tod Shoppers on Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Kieran McCarthy, who is also a historian, has written a number of books on the history of the city and is a vocal advocate in the maintaining of Cork city centre’s character.  

“We need funding from Government to target the problem, to fund Compulsory Purchase Orders on it.

“At the moment there is a 7% levy on the worth of a derelict site – that needs to increase.

“There is a problem where people own these properties for 20 or 30 years and they hang on to them hoping that the price will get to a point where they can make money.

“There are a number of people sitting on properties hoping that the price goes up – a lot of the difficulty here is that they are not doing anything with the property while doing that,” McCarthy said. 

Historic

McCarthy said that not all historical buildings in Cork are in a distressed state, he said that many are well maintained despite being empty.

“Most of the historic stock in the city are not protected structures, only about five or 10% have orders on them.

“The big issue with CPOs is the legal cost to get them in them in the first place and then theres the cost of buying the building.

“If the Council had a huge pot of money they could do it but at the moment it isn’t feasible as the only solution.

“People’s expectations are quite high, especially with the property tax. In last five years our budgets have just broken even.

“The economic crash saw massive cuts and really left Cork in a bad place for a number of years, Covid has also now damaged us.

“The solution to the dangerous buildings on this and the dereliction is not about the Council going on a solo run, it is about a buy in from everyone in the city, residents and developers,” he added. 

A statement has been requested from Cork City Council. 

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