A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect. This document describes the protection given to these structures under Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
A structure must be listed on the planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status under the Act. Each planning authority is obliged to keep a RPS as part of its development plan. The RPS must include every structure in the planning authority's area which it considers to be of special interest. Inclusion of these structures in the RPS means that their importance is recognised, they are legally protected from harm and all future changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
If a structure is included in the RPS, the protection extends to:
- The interior of the structure
- The land in its curtilage. Curtilage means the land and outbuildings immediately surrounding a structure which is (or was) used for the purposes of the structure.
- Any other structures on that land and their interiors.
- All fixtures and features forming part of the interior and exterior of the protected structure or any structure on the grounds attached to it.
If there is an urgent need for repairs to a protected structure, a grant may be available under the Historic Structures Fund (pdf). The Historic Structures Fund will have 3 streams in 2021:
- Stream 1 offers grants from €15,000 up to €50,000 and is aimed at essential repairs and smaller capital works for the refurbishment and conservation of heritage structures. In 2021, local authorities can also apply for funding for 2 pilot projects under Stream 1. This funding is for the conservation of historic shop fronts and historic Irish language shop fronts.
- Stream 2 offers a small number of grants from €50,000 up to €200,000 for larger enhancement, refurbishment or reuse projects involving heritage structures.
- Pilot Stream for Vernacular Structures offers funding of between €5,000 and €10,000 for projects aimed at conserving vernacular structures that are not already protected. Vernacular structures are informal buildings or built features that were made by everyday people, but now have cultural significance, for example, buildings made using thatching, mud-walling or wattle-working.
The Historic Structures Fund can also be used to care for historic structures and buildings in public ownership, and to improve recreational infrastructure and public access to these heritage sites. These projects are selected by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and are run in partnership with State-funded organisations, such as the Office of Public Works or the Irish Heritage Trust.
Funding is also available for the protection of architectural heritage through the Built Heritage Investment Scheme. This scheme is designed to assist with the repair and conservation of structures that are protected under the Planning and Development Acts. The primary purpose of the scheme is to support privately owned properties in need of repair and conservation. Projects that incorporate a traditional skills training element may also be supported by this fund. The fund is administered through the local authorities. Applicants cannot avail of funding under both the Historic Structures Fund and the Built Heritage Scheme in the same year.
The planning authority can add and delete structures from its RPS when reviewing its development plan or at any other time. Three stages must be gone through before a structure can be added to the RPS:
Identification of protected structures
A planning authority can use a number of different sources to help it to identify structures for protection. These include:
- A planning authority can carry out a survey of its area to determine if there are structures that should be added to the RPS.
- The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) compiles records of Ireland's architectural heritage. It provides planning authorities with details of surveys of their area. NIAH surveys may be used by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to make recommendations on structures to be added to the RPS. It is up to the planning authority to decide if any of the structures recommended should be included in the RPS.
- The Minister can also make recommendations to a planning authority to include individual structures in the RPS.
- Anyone can write to a planning authority to recommend a structure for protection, but the decision to include it in the RPS can only be made by the elected members of the planning authority.
Assessment of protected structures
A planning authority decides whether a structure should be included in the Record of Protected Structures (RPS) by identifying characteristics of special interest under the following headings: architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, technical, and social. The assessment process should be impartial and objective.
Notification of addition to the Record of Protected Structures
If the planning authority decides to consider a structure for inclusion in the RPS, it must go through the process laid down in the 2000 Act. It must notify the owner and occupier that the structure is a ‘proposed protected structure’. This means the structure has the same protection as a structure already on the RPS pending the final decision of the planning authority.
The planning authority must also inform the Minister of the proposed addition, along with a number of bodies prescribed by the Planning and Development Regulations (pdf), including the Heritage Council, the Arts Council, Fáilte Ireland and An Taisce. Details of proposed additions to the RPS must be displayed in public for at least 6 weeks (10 weeks if it is done during the making of a development plan), during which time anyone, including the owner or occupier of the structure, has the right to comment on the proposal to the planning authority. These comments will be taken into account before the authority’s elected members decide whether or not the structure should become a protected structure.
The decision to list the structure in the RPS must be made within 12 weeks of the end of the display period. The planning authority must notify the owner and occupier of the structure of their decision within 2 weeks.
If a structure is to be deleted from the list, the same process must be followed. Details of the structure proposed for deletion must be displayed in public and any comments or objections from the public or the owner/occupier must be taken into account by the elected members of the planning authority when making their decision.
Obligations on owners and occupiers of protected structures
Owners or occupiers of protected structures are legally required to make sure that the structure does not become endangered through neglect, decay, damage or harm. Generally, if a structure is kept in habitable condition and regular maintenance is carried out (such as cleaning out gutters, repairing missing slates, repainting external timberwork) it should not become endangered.
If a protected structure is endangered, the planning authority can serve a notice on the owner or occupier, requiring them to carry out any work that it considers necessary to protect the structure. The work must be done within 8 weeks of the date of the notice. The planning authority can also service a notice to require the ‘restoration of character’ of the protected structure. This could include removing, changing or replacing any parts of the structure specified in the notice.
Owners or occupiers can make written representations to the planning authority about the terms of the notice. They may request more time or financial help to comply with the notice. In many cases, they may be eligible for a conservation grant. The planning authority will take these representations into account when making their final decision. Owners and occupiers can appeal against the notice to the District Court within 2 weeks of their last response from the planning authority, if they are still not satisfied.
If a notice to prevent a structure from becoming endangered has been ignored, the planning authority can take enforcement action. In the case of endangerment or restoration of character notices, the planning authority can carry out the work itself and recover the costs of the work from the owner or the occupier. In exceptional cases, the planning authority may buy the protected structure from the owner, either by compulsory purchase or by agreement. This would only be done if the planning authority considered it the only way to save a protected structure.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, there are penalties for owners or occupiers of protected structures who endanger the structure or who fail to carry out work that has been ordered by the planning authority. If they are found guilty, they could be liable for fines of up to €12.7 million and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Planning permission is needed for work carried out on a protected structure that would materially affect its character. This means that many types of work, which in another building would be considered exempted development, may not be exempted where the building is a protected structure. Depending on the nature of the structure and the features of interest, even work such as painting the interior or replacing windows could affect its character and require planning permission.
If you are unsure about what works require planning permission for your particular building, you can apply in writing to your planning authority for a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 about the structure and its curtilage (or grounds attached). This declaration states what types of work can be carried out without affecting the character of the structure. A declaration cannot exempt any works which would otherwise require planning permission. A planning authority will issue this declaration within 12 weeks of receiving a request. There is no fee for this service. You can take a case to An Bord Pleanála if you disagree with the declaration issued to you.
You must apply for planning permission in the usual way if more extensive work is planned. However, you will need to include more detail, such as drawings, photographs or any other material necessary to explain how the proposed alterations would affect the character of the structure. The newspaper and site notices for the planning application must state that the structure is a protected structure. You should check with your planning authority to find out what additional information they require when applying for planning permission on a protected structure. If the planning authority has refused planning permission, you can appeal this decision to An Bord Pleanála.
There a number of useful publications in this area, they include:
- A series of practical advice leaflets on topics such as energy renovations in traditional buildings (pdf) and repairing historic windows (pdf)
- A series of guidelines on Architectural Heritage Protection. These are statutory guidelines to which planning authorities must have regard in their work but they will also be of assistance to owners of protected structures, their advisers and everyone with an interest in architectural heritage.
- A series of detailed conservation guidelines to help architects, builders and owners to understand the guiding principles of conservation and restoration.
How to apply
If you want to recommend a structure for protected status or if you have any questions relating to your protected structure, you should write to your planning authority's Conservation Officer or the planning department of your local authority.
You may also find it useful to contact the following: