Progress on reconstructing St. Mel’s Cathedral has been stalled somewhat after an objection was lodged with An Bord Pleanála against Longford Town Council’s decision to grant permission to carry out works relating to the sub-floor and roof.
Planning permission had been granted for a new roof and sub-floor, as well as the erection of new limestone columns and pilasters to replace the original ones lost in the fire on Christmas Day 2009.
However, while planning permission was granted by Longford Town Council at the end of March, an objection to the plans for the roof and the floor was lodged with An Bord Pleanála last Friday by Liam Madden. No work can be carried out until they rule on the application, which is expected to be by August 23.
According to the Chairman of the St Mel’s Cathedral Project committee, Seamus Butler, there was no need for the objection. “We would certainly say the objection was of an imperious nature. An Taisce actually sent a letter praising the planning application, which is almost unheard of. For there to be one objection out of all the people in the country is certainly disappointing.”
Fr Tom Healy reiterated Mr Butler’s comments stating he was “incredibly disappointed” with the objection. “This is a remarkably complex project but when the guardians of heritage in this country, An Taisce, send a letter praising the application it makes the objection even more disappointing.”
Mr Butler added that the project is ahead of schedule and is confident the objection should not set the project back any time. It is hoped to proceed with an order of limestone for the columns and the pilasters after a meeting of the committee due to be held on May 1st. It is expected it will take over a year for all the stone to be ready to be erected in the Cathedral.
Tenders for the construction of the sub-floor and the roof will be advertised soon, with construction ready to begin if An Bord Pleanála rule against the objection.
Longford Town Council granted permission for a new concrete sub-floor which will be supported independently from the original structure in line with conservation principles. This sub-floor will finish 150mm below the existing floor finish to allow for a new floor build up, possibly incorporating underfloor heating and the desired new floor finish, which will be subject to a further planning application.
The design team had also got the green light for the construction of the new roof, with the major difference being the inclusion of steel trusses over timber, which were originally in place.
In their application, the design team state steel would allow for a different configuration than timber and would allow improved walkways which would benefit maintenance in the future. They also state that steel trusses could be erected quicker, lessening the exposure of the building to the elements. Mr Butler also stressed the steel would not be visible either from within or outside the building.
As a protected structure under the Planning and Development Act 2000, the rebuild of St Mel’s Cathedral will have to adhere to strict rules to protect and respect the original building.
The next stage of the reconstruction is a planning application for the interior of the building given that the green light has been given for the construction of the church organ, which caused some controversy in February when it emerged an Italian company had won the tender for its construction.
The final planning application will involve the exterior of the building and the grounds and will be submitted at a later stage.