An architect's rendering of the proposed new development.

Belturbet’s Palais to be partially demolished

LANDMARK Facade to be retained in residential development

Controversial plans for the Erne Palais site in Belturbet have been approved by An Bord Pleanála.

The former dance hall and cinema, which was destroyed by fire in 2018, was the centre of a campaign to protect the building from development.

As part of the plans, the landmark facade is to be retained but the rest of the building demolished to make way for two apartments and five houses. Constructed in 1947, the Palais building was first used as a cinema, before being transformed into a ballroom - one of the region’s most popular. It was then used as a community centre, before falling into disuse. A fire in September 2018 destroyed the building and led to the cordoning off of some surrounding areas to allow for cleaning due to concerns over asbestos.

Erne Palais Ltd was granted planning permission by Cavan County Council in June but this was subsequently appealed to the planning appeals board.

The appeal, lodged by local resident Brian McDermott, centred around a number of factors, including the cultural heritage of the building, the lack of economic need for more housing in Belturbet, the design of the houses and potential traffic issues and road safety hazards.

In his submission, Mr McDermott said there is a lack of housing need in Belturbet and cited figures from the County Development Plan that project population decline in the area.

The site’s location at a busy junction in the town was also cited as a concern, particularly as no car parking is to be provided at the site. In its application, the developer said the town centre location and provision of on-street parking meant no dedicated parking was required.

The appellant also highlighted the necessity to move signage to allow for the development. Plans show the signage is to be moved to a new site but he claimed this would prevent access to a memorial plaque.

Mr McDermott also queried the need to demolish the majority of the building, saying the former ticket window and stone fire escape steps at the side should be retained.

In his report, An Bord Pleanála Inspector Barry O’Donnell examined each issue raised in the appeal but ultimately advised the board to approve the development with changes to the conditions attached. He said he was “satisfied that the proposed development is in accordance with the zoning objective and development plan core strategy” of the town.

He said that, while the building is a protected structure and appears on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the rear section of it had been “damaged beyond repair” following the 2018 fire.

The NIAH described the building as having a ‘curved gable front [that] is typical of cinemas of its time and makes an eye-catching contrast to the predominantly rectilinear façades found elsewhere in the town’.

Mr O’Donnell said: “In view of the extent of fire damage to the building and the fact that the proposed redevelopment would secure retention and restoration of the primary feature of architectural interest, I conclude that the applicant’s approach to the retention of built heritage on the site accords with the recommendations of the Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines and is, on balance, acceptable.”

The plans also include a balcony and an outdoor space for the two apartments. However, the inspector recommended these be removed from the plans as there would be a lack of privacy and the ground floor space would have to be screened to a “high level”.

Nearby public spaces were deemed to be sufficient for use by any future occupiers.

Mr O’Donnell also recommended a condition that the relocation of signage be agreed with the county council to prevent the nearby memorial plaque being blocked.

APB’s board approved the plans subject to 17 conditions, including the removal of the outdoor spaces at the front of the building and the provision of a pedestrian crossing. at the junction of Holborn Hill and Barrack Street. Architectural assessments must also be carried out and works can only take place at the site between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday and between 8am and 2pm on Saturdays.