€20M vision for Abbeylands
UNVEILED Master plan approved by councillors
Cavan County Council has outlined its vision for the regeneration of the Abbeylands area of Cavan Town and potential options for its transformation into a civic space and amenity.
An extensive overview of the Master Draft Plans for the Abbeylands project was presented at a meeting of the Cavan Belturbet MD meeting.
Maire Henry from DHB Architects made the presentation in Cavan Courthouse last week in conjunction with Colm O’Murchu and Frank Cooney, Cooney Architects.
Cavan County Council has been successful in attracting ERDF funding of €14.5 million from Government and the Director of Services Brendan Jennings revealed that the local authority will be providing €5 million in matching funding.
The next move in relation to the project is to formulate a business case in the context of a very detailed part 8 planning process to include consultation with the councillors.
The master plan suggests potential usages, linkages and scale but it does not include detailed architectural images of how the buildings will appear.
“It looks at everything else, that whoever interprets this will have a set of guiding principles,” said Mr Jennings.
It is also about prioritising people over cars and the Abbeylands itself will evolve into a new civic space and will compliment the Market Square area.
The Master Plan offers two options for the Market Square – one involves the current post office staying where it is and improving the connection from Main Street to Abbeylands.
Ms Henry outlined another option: “Build a prominent post office type building with other functions on the corner of Townhall Street and Main Street. Then the remainder of the space between the Bank of Ireland and that new building becomes a south-facing plaza and opens up more generously towards the Abbeylands project.”
Realising the second option relies on further engagement with the owners of the properties involved.
The adoption of the Master Plan was proposed by Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF), seconded by Cllr Peter McVitty (FG) and passed unanimously.
Mr Jennings thanked the members for their positive input and for adopting the plan.
He described the near €20M investment in the project as “absolutely massive for this town”.
The director continued: “It will have a real impact. It is going to be a challenging few years ahead, in terms of trying to advance it – as senior planner Nicholas O’Kane said the business case is the first step. There has been a lot of engagement to date and a lot more to do, with the likes of the post office and many other property owners.”
At the outset of her presentation, Ms Henry said: “We all share the same ambitions – that is to develop a master plan for Abbeylands, which will re-ignite this sacred and special space – providing connections in and between other parts of the town. Also, to develop backland areas and afford an opportunity for public and private investment. Above all, it will be heritage led and building upon the layers of history on the site and some beautiful buildings that exist there.”
Referencing ERDF funding requirements, Ms Henry said: “We have adopted these guidelines for this regeneration. They include compact and sustainable development within existing footprints. The aim is to make this area attractive to live in – to visit and to work and play in.”
The draft master plan is a 160 page-document, formulated following numerous surveys and stakeholder engagements including workshops and meetings.
“A project like this will only be successful if it is sustained by the local community. We met and worked with a lot of members from local communities,” said the architect.
Outlining some of the technical research involved, Ms Henry said: “A site like this, of historical value, required numerous surveys to be undertaken. We have grade one conservation expertise within our team, so we did archaeological, geophysical studies and the buildings and neighbouring streets were surveyed. This, combined with the rich history of the site, all builds up the ingredients to prepare a master plan.”
Ms Henry commented on the make-up of sites and properties in the area, which include narrow plots backing onto Abbeylands – many of which are privately owned. “We navigated our way through all those ownership issues to provide a platform, which hopefully will encourage development not only in the public domain, but also in the private domain,” she said.
The plan also looks at possible layouts that could be incorporated in the Abbeylands space, which afford the staging of outdoor performances that are linked to the Townhall and outdoor cinema screens. “If there was a Fleadh Cheoil again or Christmas markets, you could have a necklace of activities happening in Abbeylands, as well as in Market Square and in other places around the town,” envisaged Ms Henry.
Cllr Brendan Fay said that the post office needs to be moved to open up Abbeylands from the Main Street. “I think that is the most important thing with this project,” he said.
“Whatever is decided, the post office can’t stay where it is – it has to be open plan to revitalise the whole town,” added the Belturbet man.
Any elements envisaged in the plan are subject to due diligence and planning. “It will be scrutinised at another level yet again,” said Ms Henry.
“It is important to note that Main Street will still remain the commercial spine of Cavan but that any increased footfall that we manage to bring into Abbeylands will automatically nourish and fuel activities along Main Street, Townhall Street and Bridge Street,” she added.
Mr Jennings emphasised the council’s commitment to the project. “We are very much behind this project as a local authority. We believe that Cavan should be aiming high and have ambition.”