Irish Georgian Society

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Conservation Larchill Arcadian Garden under threat from road proposal

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Dear Meath County Council Planning Department,

The Irish Georgian Society wishes to make an observation on the planning application by Peter Joseph Barry & Enrich Environmental Ltd for various works facilitating the increase in intake of materials at the existing composting facility at Larch Hill Stud, Newtownrathganley, Kilcock, Co. Meath from 25,000 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes per annum. 

The application site is located a short distance to the west of Larchill Arcadian Gardens (RPS ID MH049-107 and MH049-105) and it is proposed that heavy good vehicles accessing the Enrich Environmental site will travel along the southeastern/southern/southwestern boundary of the Larchill Arcadian Garden.  The Irish Georgian Society has significant concerns that increase the intake of materials to the existing Enrich facility will result in significant heritage and landscape impacts, which will endanger the long-term viability and survival of the Larchill Arcadian Garden.

Impact on the Curtilage of Larch Hill House

Larch Hill Country House (RPS MH049-107; NIAH Ref. 14404905) and follies / estate features (RPS MH049-105), including the Fox's Earth mausoleum and folly (NIAH Ref. 14404904), Gibraltar miniature fort (NIAH Ref. 14404906), Cockle Tower three-stage circular-plan castellated tower (NIAH Ref. 14404908), boathouse (NIAH Ref. 14404909), rustic temple (NIAH Ref. 14404910) and rustic temple set in a lake (NIAH Ref. 14404911), are listed in the Meath County Record of Protected Structures.  In listing the house and the assemblage of follies, the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage makes reference to the role of the inter-relationship between the main house, the related buildings and structures, such as the outbuildings, walled garden and follies in the demesne, in creating “a picturesque ferme ornee”.

Figures 1 to 3 below show the full extent of the original Larchill (or Larch Hill) demesne in relation to the site boundaries as indicated on the planning application drawings submitted with Meath County Council Reg. Ref. RA140777.  As is evident from the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1837, the original extent of the Larchhill “Ferme Ornée” was considerably larger, stretching further to the north, east and south than the existing boundaries of the Larchill Arcadian Garden.  Indeed, a cursory review of historic mapping evidence would suggest that the original Larch Hill demesne and the curtilage of the original Larch Hill house extended to encompass the area within the blue line boundary illustrated on the application drawings.  In this regard, the Planning Authority is referred to Section 13.1.5 of the Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines for Planning Authorities (DECLG, 2011), which sets out a number of matters for Planning Authorities to consider in determining the extent of a curtilage.  These matters are set out in italics in the bullet points below, together with a short commentary on how they are considered to apply to the protected structures at Larch Hill:

Is, or was, there a functional connection between the structures? For example, was the structure within the curtilage constructed to service the main building, such as a coach-house, stores and the like?  Yes.  The First Edition Ordnance Survey map indicates that the lands through which it is proposed to run the new access road was used as a sheep field associated with the “Ferme Ornée”.

Was there a historical relationship between the main structure and the structure(s) within the curtilage which may no longer be obvious? In many cases, the planning authority will need to consult historic maps and other documents to ascertain this.  Yes.  A canal connected the lake to another man-made pond at the southeast corner of the blue-lined lands.  The 1837 Ordnance Survey mapping shows a feature (potentially a folly) in the middle of the man-made pond.  Having regard to the character of the designed landscape of Larch Hill, it is reasonable to assume that the lake, canal and man-made pond operated as a unified and interconnected feature for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.  A further man-made pond, also accommodating small islands or follies, was located at the southwestern boundary of the property.  Though both the canal and the man-made ponds have since been filled in, the scars of these features can be seen on satellite photography.  Indeed, a number of physical features still survive on the blue-lined lands (e.g. smaller elements of the co-ordinated design of the “Ferme Ornée” including a sheep fold, and a series of gateways that combine a sheep gate and style as a unit) and it seems that the route of the access road will require the partial or total demolition of at least one such feature.

Are the structures in the same ownership? Were they previously in the same ownership, for example, at the time of construction of one or other of the structures?  While no longer in the same ownership, historic mapping evidence suggests that the combined area of the current Larchill Arcadian Garden and the areas within the red and blue line boundaries (together with a further area to the north) were held within the same ownership.

At Section 13.5.2, the Guidelines go on to state that: “where a formal relationship exists between a protected structure and its ancillary buildings or features, new construction which interrupts that relationship should rarely be permitted”.  It is, therefore, of significant concern that the proposed access road will cut across the line of the former canal and around the edge of the southern and western sides of the lake, severing the Larchill Arcadian Garden from its wider demesne.

It is submitted that the proposed intensified composting facility, and, in particular, the road by which it will be accessed, will result in significant and negative impacts on the protected structure and the integrity of its curtilage by disrupting and permanently altering the traditional relationship between features of the designed historic landscape.  The Irish Georgian Society, therefore, respectfully request that Meath County Council refuse permission for the proposed development.

Impact on the Long Term Viability of Larchill Arcadian Garden

Section 7.3 of the Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines provides that “It is generally recognised that the best method of conserving a historic building is to keep it in active use”.  The Irish Georgian Society is gravely concerned that the impacts of the proposed intensification of use at the Enrich Environmental Composting Facility will threaten the viability of the continued operation of Larchill Arcadian Garden as a tourist destination and, therefore, endanger the long-term protection of this unique historic landscape and architectural heritage asset. 

The demesne at Larchill was restored under the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Program and other grant assistance and is recognised as a unique ‘Ferme Ornée’ garden.  The 65-acre demesne offers visitors walks through the gardens and parkland “around an 8 acre Lake, linking follies and gazebo seats, all with marvelous views of the Dublin mountains” (source: www.larchill.ie).  Larchill is operated as a tourist attraction catering to national and international visitors and school tours.  It is respectfully submitted that the impacts (noise, odour, air quality, etc.) associated with the operation of a composting facility of the scale now proposed at such close proximity to Larchill render the proposal fundamentally incompatible with the use of the Larchill demesne as a tourist and amenity destination.  The proposal to run the new access road, which will accommodate the frequent and regular movement of heavy good vehicles, along the boundary of the Larchill demesne is of particular concern as the route of this access road will come within close proximity of protected structures (RPS MH049-105) and long-established walking routes exposing those routes to significant loss of amenity value due to noise.  The design of the proposed development would, therefore, appear to be inconsistent with the recommendations of the Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines, which states:

“Detailed consideration should be given at an early stage to the design of measures to protect structures and important features likely to be affected by a development, including those on adjacent sites. A protected structure should not be exposed to damage … from vehicle impacts …”

Having regard to the unique character of Larchill as a ‘Ferme Ornée’ garden, it would seem that the proposed development is at odds with the Meath County Development Plan 2013-2019, which states that it is a core goal of the Planning Authority “to ensure that the unique cultural heritage of Meath is protected, conserved, enhanced and sensitively integrated into the sustainable development of the county for the benefit of present and future generations” and also “to protect the landscape character, quality and local distinctiveness of County Meath”.  It is further suggested that the proposed development “would be detrimental to scenic and identified natural and cultural heritage assets” in County Meath and is, therefore, contrary to Policy ED POL 29, which seeks to “to protect and conserve those natural, built and cultural heritage features that form the basis of the county’s tourism attraction”.  Given that “developments in proximity to Protected Structures, which would seriously detract from their character, will not normally be permitted” (page 220), the Irish Georgian Society respectfully requests that Meath County Council seek to safeguard the conservation of Larchill Arcadian Garden and refuse permission for the proposed intensification of use at the Enrich Environmental Composting Facility.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Irish Georgian Society submits that the proposed works facilitating the doubling in intake of materials at the existing composting facility at Larch Hill Stud, Newtownrathganley, Kilcock, Co. Meath (Meath Co. Co. Reg. Ref. RA140777), by reason of its likely traffic, noise and air quality impacts, is inconsistent with the continued operation of Larchill Arcadian Garden as a tourist and amenity destination and will result in significant negative impacts on the heritage value of the Larchill demesne.  The Irish Georgian Society, therefore, considers that the construction of the proposed development will result in a further and unnecessary erosion of the heritage character of Larchill Arcadian Garden and will further compromise the integrity of this unique designed landscape.  As such, it is considered that the proposed development contravenes the policies for the protection of architectural heritage set out in the Meath County Development Plan 2013-2019.