Watchdog expresses concerns over Taaffe’s building

The dilapidated former Taaffes premises on William Street. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

The Galway Association of environmental watchdog, An Taisce, has expressed concern over the status of the protected Taaffe’s shop site on William Street – with fears that its deterioration could lead to its eventual demolition.

The site, which was purchased by developer Gerry Barrett in 2006 for a reported €20 million, was earmarked to become an outlet for Spanish retail giant, Zara.

However, delays in securing planning permission and the economic downturn put paid to these plans and the premises have remained vacant since.

When an original planning application was granted for development of the unit, An Taisce appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála – citing the local significance of the building.

The national planning body granted permission with several conditions – including the conservation of a protected structure and the preservation of its architectural integrity and heritage value.

Chairman of An Taisce’s Galway Association, Derrick Hambleton, said that there are now serious concerns that the building could become irreparable.

“An Taisce are taking the view that this is leading towards a situation where the building may be declared unsafe,” said Mr Hambleton.

Documents seen by the Galway City Tribune reveal that a report on the building was carried out in August 2017 by civil and structural engineers for Galway City Council.

It outlines the current state of the property including a wet-rot problem as a result of “high-moisture content” – in excess of the 20 per cent level at which timber is vulnerable to decay.

The building contains two cut-stone arches which have been deemed to hold considerable architectural importance.

The report questions the necessity for props which have been placed under said arches.

“It is unclear why these props have been provided because, based on visual inspection, the arch does not appear to be exhibiting signs of structural problems.

“…the effectiveness of the installed props in providing additional support to the arch is questionable based on the condition of the props and specifically their contact with the soffit of the arch.”

Steel beams are noted in the report as showing signs of “significant corrosion”.

While it states that the building is not, in its current condition, a “dangerous structure”, this conclusion comes with a caveat.

“Further damage could lead to the overall structural integrity of the building ultimately being compromised,” it warns.

Mr Hambleton believed that failure to protect the structure amounted to neglect on behalf of both the developer and Galway City Council.

“An Bord Pleanála has said that everything that can be preserved should be preserved – nobody is expecting the whole thing to be preserved but Bord Pleanála’s rulings should be observed.

“The City Council is not doing its job; and under the legislation, if a building is listed as protected, they have the legal authority to insist they repair that building and there are several stages that they can go through – eventually getting to the stage of a compulsory purchase order,” explained Mr Hambleton.

He said he had sought assurance from the Council in December of last year that they were protecting the building.

Correspondence from City Hall confirmed that an inventory of archaeological material and stones unlocked from the dismantling of the rear of the property was forwarded to the Council from the developer.

The Council have informed An Taisce that they have, as of March this year, requested that the developer provide an updated timescale for necessary works – outlining when the remaining planning conditions will be complied with.

An Bord Pleanála stipulated in their 2009 planning decision that all repairs should retain the maximum amount of joinery and plasterwork, while causing minimum interference to the building’s structure and fabric.

Mr Hambleton said that An Taisce wants to see these elements preserved and for the building to return to use – and called for immediate action to be taken to halt its decline.

He said that Taaffe’s was an integral part of Galway’s social history and that any future business to be based on the site could benefit from having these architectural styles dating as far back as the eighteenth century incorporated in their design.

“Taaffe’s shop is nothing really but it is important in its own way – it is worthy of recognition as part of our past,” said Mr Hambleton.