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New courthouse is ‘poor urban design’ – architect

A computer image of the proposed new Letterkenny Courthouse.

A computer image of the proposed new Letterkenny Courthouse.

BY HARRY WALSH
AN award-winning firm of architects has expressed concern at the “poor urban design” of the proposed new multi-million euro purpose built courthouse in Letterkenny.
MacGabhann Architects, Ballaghderg, has written to the Office of Public Works (OPW) claiming that the new design detracts from an already fragile part of Letterkenny.

Mr Tarla MacGabhann said that, in principal, they welcome the new court house, especially in a town centre location. He said that while they also welcome its modern and contemporary design they have issues with urban design and the town planning aspect of the project.

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“Our main objection is the 1.5 metre high security metal fence surrounding the project. The new Central Criminal Court in Dublin has no security fence and we would question the need for this pound and fence,” he said.
Work is expected to start in early 2015 on the new four-storey courthouse on the High Road which is currently at the planning stage.

The location of the complex will be on the site of the old Letterkenny Leisure Centre, 200 metres from the current courthouse, which was sold to the Courts Service a number of years ago for €3 million.
The proposed development also includes a footpath between the boxing club and the 1.5m fence. “This virtually closes the existing route and will create anti-social spaces at both ends,” Mr MacGabhann noted.

“In relation to parking, two existing large car parks with capacity in excess of 100 cars are to be done away with, with no provision for replacement public parking. This parking is used daily by shoppers and visitors to the town and by theatre and RCC goers at night time.

“Presently, the existing court house uses an existing public car park adjacent to it. It is not good planning when a new and larger replacement court house does not provide any public parking for the users of the building. The existing An Grianán car park is normally full during the day and is not sufficient to service the new court house,” he said.

A spokesman for the Courts Service told this paper earlier this month that the proposal to construct the new four-storey courthouse on the High Road is currently at the planning stage and that a public notice to this effect has been advertised.
Mr Gerry Curran added there is no start date for the project yet as it has to go to the market for tender as part of a Public, Private Partnership (PPP) package of new court houses. “However, it would be likely to be 2015 before that (PPP process) is complete and building begins,” he concluded.

The current courthouse, built around 1830, has come for criticism in recent years from both judges and members of the legal profession.It was rebuilt over twenty years ago with only the facade being retained.

In 2010, Judge John O’Hagan said physical conditions at the court were “dreadful” and the crowded courtroom was at times verging on a health and safety problem.
The judge said the courthouse only has one holding cell which court staff have to use for storage.

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