LOCAL representatives have called on Cork City Council to compulsorily purchase the derelict ruins of a stately home on the outskirts of the city, after the council failed to make contact with the property’s owner.
Vernon Mount House, a neo-classical Georgian mansion built in the 1780s and overlooking Cork’s South Ring Road, had fallen into dereliction in recent years and was badly damaged in a fire in 2016.
Cork City Council was understood to have been attempting to contact the site’s owner after the Office of Public Works (OPW) said in late 2021 that it had no jurisdiction over the property.
Fine Gael councillor Shane O’Callaghan told The Echo in December 2021 that the council was seeking permission from the owner of Vernon Mount House to apply for a national heritage grant to fund the necessary repairs to the building, estimated in 2017 at over €43,000 at that time.
It is understood that the council has not contacted the owner of the property, prompting calls on the council to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the site.
Labour Party local area representative Peter Horgan said his party colleague, Cork East TD Seán Sherlock, had been told in late 2021 by then public expenditure minister Michael McGrath that the lands surrounding the house were owned by a company which had dissolved, meaning “these lands may have devolved to the State”.
However, Mr McGrath had said the house and its immediate curtilage is owned by a separate, live company with up-to-date annual returns and a normal Company Registration Office status.
“Therefore the house and its immediate curtilage is not vested in the minister for public expenditure and reform under the State Property Act 1954 and, that being the case, the OPW has no role in the matter.”
Mr Horgan said Mr McGrath’s successor as public expenditure minister, Paschal Donohoe, told Mr Sherlock two weeks ago that the “position regarding Vernon Mount House remains the same”.
Mr Horgan said it felt like a case of the OPW and Government passing the buck to the local authority, who in turn wanted to pass it back to the OPW. “There needs to be a massive ramping-up of proactivity in dealing with derelict sites, and especially with sites like Vernon Mount, which hold historical heritage significance,” said Mr Horgan.
“Regardless of the property being in public or private ownership, the property is in dereliction and is an unsafe structure and there needs to be an intervention made to secure the site and restore it, and whether that means that the owner then gets billed, or some mechanism is devised to recoup the public monies spent on such a move, that’s something that needs to be decided by the powers that be.”
He said the situation could not be allowed to continue where derelict structures lay unaddressed for years on end, with seemingly no clear actions being taken to resolve them.
“In the case of Vernon Mount, quite simply I would say Cork City Council needs to CPO it,” Mr Horgan said.
Councillor Shane O’Callaghan agreed, saying the time had come for Vernon Mount House to be taken into public ownership.
“If efforts to contact the owner have been unsuccessful, or the owner has been uncooperative, I think either way the time has come now for Vernon Mount House to be brought into public ownership by way of compulsory purchase order,” he said.
“In December 2020, I succeeded in getting Vernon Mount placed on the Derelict Sites Register, and that means that the owners of the property since December 2020 have been required to pay an annual levy of 7% of the market value of the property to the city council.
“To my knowledge that levy has not been paid, and I think that, given the fact that all of the efforts to engage with the owner have been unsuccessful, now is the time to start the process of bringing the property into public ownership,” he said.
Asked whether the owner of Vernon Mount has paid the dereliction levy, a spokesperson for Cork City Council said:
“The payment of a levy by an individual and/or site owner is not something that Cork City Council discloses to the public as it is private information”.
Vernon Mount was one of Cork’s last surviving Georgian mansions and had contained significant murals by 18th century artist Nathaniel Grogan. It had been in private ownership since the 1990s and had fallen into dereliction after an investment company was refused planning permission for a hotel and residential property development on the site.
Following years of anti-social behaviour, the building was badly damaged in a fire in 2016, three years after Cork County Council had used its powers under the 2000 Planning and Development Act and intervened to repair a leaking roof, at a cost of €170,000.
In 2019, following the city boundary extension, Vernon Mount came under the jurisdiction of Cork City Council.