Chapter 8 - Public realm, vacancy and opportunities
The planning policy for public realm, vacancy and opportunity buildings and sites is to:
- Seek further opportunities in partnership with other agencies and the local community to; improve Kilmallock’s public realm, promote re-use of vacant buildings and development of opportunity sites ensuring Kilmallock is more attractive place to live in, visit, work in, and attract investment without compromising its heritage; and
- Implement the actions of the Kilmallock Town Realm Plan 2009 subject to funding and resources.
8.1 The importance of public realm
Public realm refers to all areas that the public has access to. It includes roads, streets, lanes, walkways, market squares, public spaces associated with public buildings, informal spaces where people congregate such as bus stops or public seating, or places conducive to social interaction. Many features contribute to the quality of public realm including; quality or absence of street furniture, vacancy, design, quality and maintenance of buildings, quality of spaces created between buildings, hard surface materials such as footpaths or paving, traffic movement, parking, circulation routes for traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists, public lighting, and perceptions of safety. High value public realm in a town demonstrates characteristics such as; promoting human contact and social activities; safety, welcoming and inclusive to all users; visually interesting design and architectural features; promotes community involvement and pride of place; reflects local heritage and history; is well maintained and has a unique and special character that is easily identifiable. Public areas are a key determinant of perception of a town to resident and visitor alike. Public realm determines how people circulate, travel and interact in the town and consequently, has a significant role is how a town functions, and how attractive it is a place to live and visit, or to invest in.
8.2 Kilmallock’s Public Realm and general principles of urban design
Kilmallock has many strong attributes in terms of its public realm. The town has many fine historic buildings and landmarks, a traditional Irish town streetscape with diverse architectural features - legacies of medieval influences, the Victorian and Gothic Revival era, the 18th/early 19th vernacular period, and the contemporary design of the schools and the public library. In the 1990s, the wirescape of the town centre was re-routed underground in the interest of visual amenity in the historic town centre. Kilmallock is located on the River Loobagh offering further potential for public realm with two parks on banks of the river developed by the Council and Kilmallock Tidy Towns. The Famine Memorial Park, is also a positive contributor to Kilmallock’s public realm. The opportunities afforded by town wall and its recent walkway development connecting schools and Glenfield to the town centre improving pedestrian and cyclist connectivity in the town. There is further potential to enhance the walk by the East Wall. These features provide a strong base for the heritage-led regeneration in the town.
Unfortunately, Kilmallock is susceptible to threats to the quality of its public realm. For example, high property vacancy rates, lack of property maintenance or inappropriate materials used on works to older buildings, litter, poor maintenance of, or absence of street furniture, and poor quality hard surfaces, and traffic behaviour through Kilmallock’s streets.
However, Kilmallock has not been complacent. The Kilmallock Town Wall Conservation and Management Plan 2008 and the Kilmallock Public Realm Plan (KPRP) 2009, both collaborative plans with the local community, remain relevant to the town today and have guided public realm improvement in the town since 2009. The primary objective of the Public Realm Plan is to identify specific initiatives, schemes and projects that improve the town’s infrastructure, with particular emphasis on its Walled Town status. The initiatives include the possible reopening of Kilmallock Railway Station, the establishment of walking loops and interpretation facilities, improvements to the existing streetscape and open spaces, and the provision of signage and visitor orientation aids (including artwork) at strategic locations within and on the approaches to the Town. The Sustainable Development Report published by the Kilmallock Association for Trade and Commerce is also cognisant of the importance of public realm to business in Kilmallock.
The public realm plan generated an audit and appraisal of built heritage of Kilmallock. It determined which features in town centres are valued by community, established a shared vision for the future, and formulated a long-term strategic plan to realise that vision. Since its inception in 2008 it has guided and prioritised projects during a difficult economic recession. As a result of this determination, there has been considerable progress of the West Wall walkway and town wall conservation, and the Merchant’s House has recently secured funding for restoration works to accommodate a tourism/community space.
In 2018, the Council appointed designers to work with architecture students of the University of the Limerick to co-design with the local community to improve the northern approach to the town. The purpose of the Kilmallock Threshold Project was to give the local community an opportunity to improve public realm using temporary pubic art, on approaching the town, improving the view and impression of the town, and looking at ways to slow traffic at this busy junction at the post-primary school. Three structures were choosen and are constructed by the Kilmallock’s Mens Shed and University of Limerick’s Fab Lab providing opportunities for local people to learn modern computer generated fabrication techniques. The resultant design is sensitive to the built heritage of the town as it uses the historic North Gate as its reference, and will be located to complement view of this historic structure. This installation is the temporary (6 – 12 months). It will be monitored for impact on traffic speeds and public perception of the public art, and its contribution to place-making. If successful, the art will be installed permanently.
Figure 8.1 Kilmallock Threshold Project - public co-design session, 2018
8.3 Urban Design
This section provides guidance to assist prospective applicants in drawing attention to aspect of planning and design that a Planning Authority will be taking into account when assessing applications for future development. Since adoption of the 2009-2015 Kilmallock Plan (as extended) there has been a number of guidance documents issued which deal with urban design.
- National Building Authority (2002) ‘ Building for Everyone – Inclusion, Access and Use’,
- DEHLG (2007), Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities,
- DEHLG (2009), Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas – Guidelines for Planning Authorities and the accompanying Urban Design Manual,
- DEHLG (2009), Government Policy on Architecture 2009-2015,
- DEHLG (2009), Towards a Sustainable Future: Delivering Quality within the Built Environment,
- DTTS (2009), Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future,
- DEHLG (2009), The Planning System and Flood Risk Management,
- DTA Sustainable Transport Future 2009 – 2020,
- DECLG (2013), Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets, and
- DHPCLG (2018): Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments.
The DEHLG also recommends using the UK’s ‘Manual for Streets’ (Dept of Communities and Local Government, 2007) in designing residential streets.
Themes and principles of Urban Design
A successfully designed urban area would generally be governed by the following themes:
- A commitment to the achievement of a high design quality. It is essential that there is a commitment to good design as a sustainable to enhance a local sense of. Design should be both comprehensive in its scope with respect to its brief and thorough in its attention to detail.
- Sensitive response to context: The key questions are how does the development respond to its surroundings? How do proposals create a sense of place?
- Accommodation of an appropriate type and variety of uses and tenures: A key challenge is how to accommodate and facilitate a variety of uses that will nurture a sense of community and vitality to a neighbourhood.
- Ensuring connectability and inclusivity: How well is the new neighbourhood / site connected? How easily can people use and access the development? How will parking be secure and attractive?
- Environmental efficiency and responsibility: How does the development make appropriate use of resources, including land?
- Ensuring adequate amenities for private and for public needs: How does the layout of the development safeguard the privacy of its residents and provide for their amenity needs? How does the proposal create people-friendly streets and spaces? How safe, secure and enjoyable are the public areas?
Kilmallock is fortunate in that there are examples of contemporary modern building design in the town that respect its setting in a historic town, contributing to place-making, place identity, and assisting legibility of the town. For example, the refurbished Court House, and contemporary design of the Council offices and the Kilmallock Library.
On a local level, the Limerick CDP 2010 – 2016(as extended) has placed greater emphasis on appropriate design in its development management guidelines. It is a requirement that a design statement is submitted as part of a planning application for 5 or more dwellings, or commercial / industrial developments over 1,000 sq. metres. A ‘Design Statement’ is a document, which enables the applicant to explain why a particular design solution is deemed the most suitable proposal for a particular site. The design options considered by the developer should be submitted as part of the design statement. The accompanying Sustainability Statement and Social Infrastructure Assessment should also demonstrate the design considerations, having regard to the transport, energy, ecology, and social quality. Design statements should refer to up-to-date national guidelines, how the site and context is appraised, how the design meets the objectives and follows the site-specific guidelines of this Plan as relevant to the site.
The objectives for Kilmallock’s public realm and urban design are:
Objective P1 Public Realm and urban design
It is the objective of Council to:
- Continue to seeking funding opportunities to improve public realm in Kilmallock.
- Require public realm features, street furniture, shopfronts to make a positive contribution to their surroundings in the historic town.
- Encourage the use of traditional shopfront design, material and signs and prohibit the use of plastic, neon-lit shopfronts,
- Promote sensitive development of Kilmallock’s rich built heritage based on the principles and guidance of Chapter 6 of this plan, and the principles of good design in Section 8.2 above, and
- Secure to the objectives of the Kilmallock Public Realm Plan 2009.
Design at approaches to the town
High quality urban design which makes a statement in terms of ‘distinctiveness’, ‘landmark feature’ and ‘sense of place’ will be expected at locations of high visibility in the built environment of Kilmallock. The Council will encourage quality innovative modern design in terms of its context with the surrounding urban area.
Any development proposals at Gortboy/Gotoon on the R512 on lands zoned enterprise and employment should be of a high quality design. These proposals should, therefore, demonstrate innovative architectural design principles, contribute to a sense of distinctness, reflect arrival at a town and ‘sense of place’, and thereby, enforce a positive image of Kilmallock. Landmark/Gateway buildings are essential to creating a sense of place in terms of mental maps that people associate with a certain place. A design brief will be required of any proposal seeking planning permission. The design will have reference to and be sensitive to the Kilmallock Railway Station which is a Protected Structure.
Objective P2: Landmark locations on the approaches to Kilmallock
It is the objective of the Council to require development proposals at landmark locations within Kilmallock and on the approach to the town to demonstrate high quality innovative design in and adjacent to these locations. Landmark locations/focal points/gateway buildings i.e. street corners or road junctions should be emphasised by form and massing and/or a complementing detail (i.e. higher density development/an additional storey, design feature etc). In housing developments, in particular, this would also act as a natural method of traffic calming where there is not full visibility around a corner.
8.4 Vacancy and dereliction in Kilmallock
Vacancy rates of residential and commercial properties in the town centre are high. GeoDirectory figures for Q4 of 2018 records 22 residences vacant of 172 units or 12.7% of town centre residences. Eighteen commercial units of 59 commercial units were vacant, or 30% of town centre commercial units were unoccupied. These figures are above national vacancy rates. Refer to Table 8.1 below.
Table 8.1 Comparative analysis of Kilmallock’s vacancy with county levels of vacancy
Average Commercial Vacancy % Q4
Average Residential Vacancy %
Kilmallock town centre
*Extracted from GeoDirectory – a management database of postal addressees for buildings established by An Post and Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi), and the figures above are confined to town centre zone of this plan.
**GeoView Commercial and Residential Reports Q4 2017 and 2018 available on geodirectory.ie
The Council offers grant incentives for the encouragement of re-use of vacant properties in town centres to contribute towards the cost of fit-out through the Business & Retail Incentive Scheme operating since 2014. The intention is to address vacant commercial properties, improve streetscapes and support the business community.  Unfortunately, take-up in Kilmallock has been low.
In relation to derelict and vacant sites, the general approach for the Council is to seek timely actions and improvements of sites, through engagement with landowners. The Council also uses powers under the Derelict Sites Act 1990 and the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 only where necessary.
Limerick City and County Council established a Vacant Sites Register (VSR) in 2017 as required by the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015. The purpose of the register is to identify vacant sites. If the site remains idle according the provisions of the Act an annual levy is applied. The Council is required to review the register across the City and County. There are no vacant sites listed on the Vacant Site Register published December 2018, located in Kilmallock. 
Under the Derelict Sites Act 1990, the Council maintains a Derelict Sites Register (DSR) and reviews the register regularly. The Act allows the local authority to prosecute owners who do not comply with notices serviced, to acquire the property, or carry out the necessary works and charge to the owners for the cost. There is no site listed on the Derelict Sites Register published December 2018 in Kilmallock.  However, the Council has proactively notified landowners of the intention to place their property on the DSR commencing the process of applying an annual levy based on market value of the property.
Objective P2 Obsolescence, vacancy and dereliction
It is the objective of the Council to:
- Identify and seek the re-purposing of obsolete property, and exercise powers under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, and the Derelict Sites 1990 if appropriate, subject to resources and due legislative process, and
- Ensure redevelopment proposals are sensitive to the historic and built heritage of the town.
8.5 Key Buildings
There are a number of buildings in Kilmallock town centre vacant, under-used, and some are poorly maintained. Collectively these buildings contribute to a sense of degeneration which is not the ambition of a town with consistent positive population growth that is expected to continue. The Council has identified nine buildings, that it considers have the potential to be key contributors to urban regeneration in the town, sustaining community vitality, contributing to a positive public realm experience, and having potential for adaptive re-use. Refer to Appendix 5 of this plan. Furthermore, refurbishment of these buildings has the potential to sustain and improve the value of these property assets in terms of rental and selling market value. The physical condition and appearance of a building can be the difference between a potential view, rent or sale of the building, or to disregard Kilmallock town centre as an investment option, and seek a similar property into another town. Refurbishment of these buildings, and population growth would also assist in the sustaining recent public investment in the town. Refer to Appendix 5 of this plan.
Some buildings have more of the attributes below than others identified as having potential refurbishment opportunity. The following criteria was considered when identifying the capability of these building to assist to reverse the sense of town centre decline.
- Location/geographical spread across the town centre, on the main thoroughfare of the town.
- Visual prominence due to their location on corners, end of terraces, at junctions, and in some cases the scale of the building with longer street frontages, eg. Baalbec House, or the former Cahill’s Hardware store.
- Easily identifiable, having a strong local connection to the local community and contributing to a sense of place.
- Architectural, historic and heritage significance of local and national status as recognised by designations as Protected Structures, NIAH buildings and in the Architectural Conservation Area.
- Much of the original built fabric has been maintained, and in some cases efforts made to sustain/improve the appearance of the building.
- The potential of refurbishment of the building to ‘lift’ adjoining properties, encouraging or acting as a catalyst to improve the appearance or refurbishment of neighbouring properties, thereby depleting the contagion effect of poor maintenance and vacancy.
- Potential to contribute to the development areas of the Kilmallock Public Realm Plan.
A key infill opportunity site identified in the 2009 LAP was the site adjacent to the Merchant’s House. The Council has recently secured funding to amalgamate this land with a redevelopment project of the Merchant’s House to accommodate an interpretative centre for tourism/culture activities. The future development will have a considerable uplifting role addressing vacancy, and public realm supporting revitalisation of Sarsfield Street, encouraging people to visit the town. The Merchant’s House remains a key opportunity/development site in Kilmallock.
Figure 8.2 Artists impression of the proposed Kilmallock Interpretative Centre
8.6 Key Infill Site
The purpose of an opportunity site is to encourage the restoration, consolidation and improvement of these sites. The appropriate development of this site could provide for significant improvements in the town and would counter-balance the positive development of the Merchant’s House on Sarsfield Street in terms of urban renewal and public realm.
Development of backlands Orr Street and Wolfe Tone Street
These backlands are in the heart of the town centre between Orr Street, Sarsfield Street and Wolfe Tone Street. The site area is 0.27 ha. There are potential opportunities if site amalgamation includes the Mortello Bros. building, a disused 19th century warehouse building no.5 as identified as a key building. Refer to Appendix 5. The Mortello building is in reasonable condition and is a fine example of past industrial built heritage in Kilmallock from the 1830s. Much of its original built fabric has survived, including dressed limestone walls, slate roof, limestone sills, piers and boundary walls, and brick detail around openings. This is a substantial attractive large, three storey building, 30m from the main junction in the town centre.
Figure 8.3 Mortello Bros. building
These lands overlook the Collegiate Church. This area is very sensitive in terms of archaeology, its location in an ACA, the location in the town centre – a national monument, and there are a number of Protected Structures in the area. Some of these structures area so on the NIAH listing.
The objectives for the site are:
- Achieve a high quality, sensitive, mixed use, infill development that establishes a new building line on Orr Street.
- Seek creative design with reference to this historic, sensitive setting with reference to the disused warehouse and the Collegiate Church. The redevelopment of this area could consider creative space/ art craft workshops and living accommodation.
Main features of the proposed development could include:
- Two-storey terraced frontage around Orr Street, rising to 3-storey on corner opposite the Church to accentuate important location;
- Ground floor shop to corner with offices above, apartments or offices to west end;
- Terraced houses to east end opposite existing;
- Short row of terraced houses extending into the site;
- Internal parking court with vehicle access via archway.
- High quality connecting pedestrian way to the Mortell Bros. warehouse
The palette of materials will be sensitive with reference to the ACA and the Protected Structure. Viewshed analysis, architectural and archaeological survey/assessment will be required as part of a planning application.
Figure 8.4 Map of town centre key infill site