Town clerk defends plan to press ahead with Town Hall facelift

A senior local authority official has urged the people of Carrick-on-Suir to view the plans for the extension and revamp of their Town Hall now on public display in the pre-Famine building.

A senior local authority official has urged the people of Carrick-on-Suir to view the plans for the extension and revamp of their Town Hall now on public display in the pre-Famine building.

Carrick-on-Suir Town Council is seeking planning permission to redevelop the Town Hall to make it accessible to people with disabilities and to provide more space and facilities for the public visiting the building on council business.

Placing the project plans on display for public viewing and comment is part of the planning application process and the town's citizens have until March 5 to check out the blueprints and lodge submissions to the local authority.

The Town Council is proposing to build a three storey extension of 557sq. m in size to the side and rear of the Town Hall and to change the internal layout of the existing building.

The plan is to develop a new entrance to the rear of the Town Hall that is fully accessible to people with disabilities and a new civic space on the ground floor where local authority and community events will be hosted.

The facelift, if granted the green light, will involve demolishing No. 36 New Street, beside the Town Hall. It will also involve road improvements at New Street and the widening of access to Stable Lane.

Town Clerk Michael O'Brien encouraged the people of the town to visit the Town Hall and view the redevelopment plans drawn up by architects firm John Deaton.

The Dublin based architects also did the design for South Tipperary Co. Council's local area office in Cahir, Erasmus House.

The planning application will come before the Town Council's members for approval in April.

If they give the thumbs up, the Council will seek a loan from the Department of Environment & Local Government to finance part of the project.

Mr O'Brien said there had been some criticism locally of the cost of the project and the Town Council pressing ahead with it at a time when funding was so tight for local authority services.

He said the Council had to carry out this redevelopment as it was legally obliged to make the Town Hall accessible to people with disabilities before 2014.

The Council was also morally obliged to do this project, he argued.

The steep steps at the front entrance to the Town Hall, which was built in 1840, and the stairs to the Council Chamber have been particular obstacles for wheelchair users, people with sensory disabilities and any mobility difficulties.

Mr O'Brien said the situation was embarrassing.

"There have been a number of cases where people in wheelchairs attending civic functions at the Town Hall had to be carried up the stairs (to the Council Chamber). That is entirely unacceptable. We had a meeting with a Tipperary disability group a while ago and we couldn't host it in the Town Hall."

The Town Clerk also pointed out that people with buggies experienced the same difficulties accessing the building .

Aside from improving disability access, there was a great need to improve facilities for people visiting the Town Hall to do Council business ranging from paying parking fines and paying service charges to issues concerning council housing, roads and water services.

At the moment, there was very little privacy for people, who had sensitive issues to discuss with Council staff at the Town Hall and there wasn't a proper public waiting area.

In relation to the cost, Mr O'Brien pointed out that the project was being co-financed by the Co. Council and over the past eight years the Town Council had set aside E500,000 of its own funds to put toward the revamp.

He assured the public that the Town Hall redevelopment will not impact on the Town Council's capital investment programme such as the Ballylynch Regeneration Scheme and pointed out that the Council hadn't raised commercial rates, rents and reduced water charges in its recent budget.

Mr O'Brien added that now was a very good time to be redeveloping the Town Hall. The Council estimated the cost of the project to be E2.5m before the recession hit but now building tenders were down about 40%, which meant it could be achieved at a much cheaper price.

He also rejected suggestions that it would be more cost effective to move the Town Hall to a location outside the town centre. This proposal didn't make any sense, he claimed. The cost of developing a new site would be far greater.

Besides, it was important the the Council's civic headquarters be in the town centre. Redeveloping the existing Town Hall was an opportunity to enhance the town centre and encourage further development in the New Street area, Mr O'Brien explained.