Portlaoise prime site mystery

UNCERTAINTY still surrounds the future plans for the former Presentation Convent complex in the heart of Portlaoise after a submission to remove three school buildings from the Record of Protected Structures with a view to future development was strenuously resisted by Laois County Council members.

UNCERTAINTY still surrounds the future plans for the former Presentation Convent complex in the heart of Portlaoise after a submission to remove three school buildings from the Record of Protected Structures with a view to future development was strenuously resisted by Laois County Council members.

With a wall to be erected around the recently demolished five buildings that are part of the former Scoil Chríost Rí and amid fears that it may become a haven for anti-social behaviour, local Fine Gael councillors Willie Aird and Kathleen O’Brien are steadfast in their opposition of any attempt by the Presentation Provincialate to amend the Draft Portlaoise Local Area Plan 2012-2018.

Cllr Aird outlined there are ‘no future plans’ for the site of the recently demolished buildings but to ‘rail it off with a wall’.

And he expressed fears that were the Presentation Convent to lose its protected structure status it could suffer a similar fate as the adjoining school buildings leaving ‘a clear site’.

Cllr O’Brien insisted she would oppose any attempt to have the Presentation Convent removed from the Record of Protected Structures. “It is part of the heritage of our town and a plan is needed for that whole area.”

Mindful of the Celtic Tiger trend of retail and residential developments being established on the outskirts of provincial towns, Cllr O’Brien remarked, “We’ve got to put Portlaoise first. This is a prime site and it is vital that whatever is planned, bearing in mind its rich history, that it is right for the town.”

Laois County Manager Peter Carey recommended that three buildings (reference numbers RPS 899, 900 & 901) at Presentation Convention, Church Avenue be retained on the Record of Protected Structures (RPS).

However, there was a submission on behalf of the Presentation Provincialate, prepared by Dublin consultancy firm John Spain & Associates, requesting that the three buildings be removed from the RPS so as not to inhibit future development and this was rejected by councillors at County Hall last Monday week, July 30.

The Presentation Provincialate was contacted however no spokesperson was available for comment.

The Presentation Convent, Maltings Complex, old St Peter’s Church and the Fort Protector are considerd ‘landmark structures’ within the Portlaoise Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) and according to the area plan ‘need active uses to secure their longevity’.

The plan suggests that conservation of these structures ‘would create an historic precinct of great heritage and value and interest, with the capacity to greatly raise the profile of the town’.

The plan highlights that, “The most serious threats to the special character of Portlaoise ACA include underuse, vacancy and dereliction.”

And it adds, “The intention behind the designation is not to stop change, but to manage the nature of the change in order to respect and enhance the features and characteristics that make a particular area special. The demolition or insensitive alteration of structures that make a positive contribution to the ACA will not be permitted.”