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Protected Structures

4 Harcourt Terrace

The Main Guard, Clonmel, RIAI Silver Medal for Conservation and Restoration, Margaret Quinlan Architect

Conservation, Historic Buildings and ‘Protected Structures’.

A historic building is a finite, non-renewable resource which needs special skills to ensure its survival. Once original fabric is lost, the special character of the building may be destroyed, and the building’s authenticity can never be restored. (The Heritage Council)

If the building you own is ‘historic’, a ‘Protected Structure’ or in an ‘Architectural Conservation Area’ you will need the advice of an architect with skills in conservation.

It is an offence for the owner of a Protected Structure to allow it to be endangered, or to carry out any works that could affect its character without planning permission, and the penalties are severe. But even if your building is not listed by the Planning Authority it can still be worthy of conservation. You may have bought your house because of its period character, or your company may have invested in a fine old building that needs work to accommodate new activities. In either case you will want to make sure that its character is not damaged in the process of any alterations or extensions you plan to carry out. You won’t want either to reduce its re-sale value – something that can easily happen as a result of inappropriate changes.

To meet the need for this kind of advice and help owners protect themselves and their property the RIAI developed an RIAI Conservation Accreditation System that recognizes differing levels of conservation expertise.

What is a ‘Protected Structure’ and what does it mean?

A ‘Protected Structure’ is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social, or technical point of view and is included in its Record of Protected Structures (RPS). It may be a building or part of a building which is of significance because of its architectural or artistic quality, or its setting, or because of its association with commercial, cultural, economic, industrial, military, political, social or religious history.

Every planning authority is obliged to have an RPS that includes structures of special interest in its area. The RPS forms part of the Development Plan. The legislation for protected structures is contained in the Planning and Development Act 2000. Part IV of the Act deals with architectural heritage.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) is the national body responsible for making recommendations to the planning authorities as to which buildings they should include in their RPS. In fact, anyone may recommend a building for inclusion in the RPS, but only the elected members of the planning authority (the Councillors) can make the final decision.

If a planning authority proposes to designate a building as a Protected Structure it must notify the owners and occupiers, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and various other bodies that it intends to do so. Details of the proposal must be displayed in public for at least six weeks, during which time anyone, including the owner or occupier, is entitled to submit comments. The authority is obliged to take these comments into consideration before its elected members decide, within 12 weeks of the end of display period, whether or not the structure should be entered in the RPS. Within two weeks of making its decision, the planning authority must notify the owner and occupier of the structure of that decision.
During all of this period the ‘Proposed Protected Structure’ has the same protection as if it were actually a ‘Protected Structure’.

Responsibility for a Protected Structure

Every owner and/or occupier of a Protected Structure must ensure that the building, or any element that contributes to its special interest, is not endangered. Endangerment can be caused by deliberate or accidental damage, decay or neglect. The same duty applies to the owners and occupiers of a Proposed Protected Structure.

The protection applies to all parts of the structure that contribute to its character and special interest, including its interior, boundary walls, gates and railings, surrounding land, any other structures on that land, their interiors, and all fixtures and features of these structures.

In general, if a structure is maintained in a secure and habitable condition and routine maintenance is carried out (e.g., gutters cleaned out, slipped slates repaired, etc.) it should not become endangered.

If a Planning Authority considers that a Protected Structure is endangered it may serve a Notice on the owner requiring any necessary works to be carried out. If the works are not carried out it is entitled to compulsorily purchase the building. However the authority also has the power to provide grants to the owner towards the cost of necessary works.

Permission to Carry out Work on a Protected Structure

Generally any Works to a Protected Structure require Planning Permission. It is not possible to make an application for Outline Permission; any application must be for full Permission. Even a small extension or minor alterations, that in a normal building would be considered ‘Exempted Development’, may need planning permission. The definition of ‘Works’ includes construction, excavation, demolition, extension, alteration, repair or renewal but also any ‘any act or operation involving the application or removal of plaster, paint, wallpaper, tiles or other material to or from the surfaces of the interior or exterior of a structure’. It is not possible to make an application for Outline Permission; any application must be for full Permission.

It is important for you and/or your Architect to make contact with the planning authority at an early stage and discuss with them what works are likely to be permissable. The Conservation Officer in particular will be able to give advice before you submit your application. You can also request the Planning Authority to issue a ‘Section 57 Declaration’ defining the kind of works to your building which would not affect its character or anything that contributes to its special interest and for which planning permission would not be necessary.

The Declaration may include items such as: redecoration, repair of plasterwork in compatible materials to match existing work, replacement of previous inappropriate alternations, demolition or alteration of a modern extension, routine maintenance and repairs to windows, doors, gutters and downpipes, refixing of loose slates, etc. This is a valuable document for any owner as it can clear the way for future alterations, repairs, re-decoration and other works that would otherwise require an application for planning permission every time. The planning authority will generally issue the Declaration within three months of receiving your request and there is no fee for this service.

A planning application for work to a Protected Structure is made in the normal way. But because it must show how the work would affect the character of the building, it will need to be more detailed than an ordinary application and include extra reports, drawings, photographs and other material to explain the proposals.

If permission is granted it may impose special conditions on the works and may require the appointment of a ‘conservation consultant’ for the construction phase to oversee the relevant works.

What is an Architectural Conservation Area?

An Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) is a place, area, group of structures or townscape which is either of special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest in its own right, or which contributes to the appreciation of protected structures. This could include, for example, a terrace of houses, buildings surrounding a square, or any group of buildings which together give a special character to an area. In a rural setting an ACA could include a group of structures associated with a mill or with a country house estate. An architectural conservation area could also include protected structures. If a Planning Authority considers that any ‘place, area, group of structures or townscape’ requires preservation, then it must declare the area to be an Architectural Conservation Area and define it as such in the Development Plan.

Works to the exterior of a building in an ACA normally require planning permission. The planning application is made in the usual way, but with additional information on how the proposed development would affect the character of the area. The planning authority will notify other bodies, including the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Heritage Council and An Taisce, before making a decision.

Information and Assistance

Sources of information and of financial support for work on historic buildings are listed below.

Financial Assistance for Owners and Occupiers of Protected Structures

Planning authorities operate a Conservation Grant Scheme which can assist the owner or occupier of a protected structure to undertake necessary works to secure its building fabric. Each planning authority has a Scheme of Priorities to assist them in assessing applications. Full details of the Conservation Grant Scheme are available from your planning authority.

Certain buildings may qualify for grant assistance from other bodies:

  • The Heritage Council
  • The Irish Georgian Society
  • Department of Environment, Heritage and Local government. Urban & Village Renewal Section.

Sources of Information:

Local Authority Planning Counter. Advice Note listing documentation required for a planning application for a Protected Structure.

Local Authority Conservation Officers and Heritage Officers.

Architectural Heritage Service

Built Heritage & Architectural Policy Section, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Custom House, Dublin 1
Tel:(01) 888 2465
E-mail: builtheritage@ahg.gov.ie

The Heritage Council, Rothe House, Kilkenny
Tel: (056) 7770777.
E-mail heritagecouncil@heritage.iol.ie
Website www.heritagecouncil.ie

Irish Georgian Society, 74 Merrion Square, Dublin 2
Tel: 353 1 676 7053
Email info@igs.ie


  • Keohane, Frank, Period Homes - A Conservation Guidance Manual, Dublin Civic Trust (2001).
  • Guidelines for the Conservation of Buildings, Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (2001).
  • Traditional Building & Conservation Skills Register of Practitioners, Irish Georgian Society (1998).


Information on the following can be found in the architectural heritage section of the website of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

  • Planning and Development Act, 2000
  • Architectural Heritage Protection: Guidelines for Planning Authorities (2004)
  • Conservation Guidelines, 1-16, Department of the Environment, Dublin (1996)

Information on all buildings and structures surveyed to date by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage in a county-by-county database.

this site provides information on the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and includes the texts of many international Charters and Conventions on conservation.