Leading article

Full restoration of Notre Dame a priority

While it has always been known that, for a variety of reasons, historic buildings can present fire risks, it has taken the appalling level of damage caused to Notre Dame in Paris to demonstrate the full scale of the threat which exists.

It has become clear since the blaze broke out on Monday evening that only an outstanding response by the emergency services prevented the complete destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which dates back to 1160, and its magnificent artefacts.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who described the legendary monument as `the epicenter of our lives' has pledged that the reconstruction task will be completed within five years, although this is probably a noticeably optimistic timescale.

Even though it is much smaller than Notre Dame, St Mel's Cathedral in Longford required a similar period of time to be fully repaired after it was gutted by an accidental outbreak on Christmas Day in 2009.

The restoration of York Minister in England, devastated after it was struck by lightning in 1984, took much longer, with the project complicated by the intricate nature of the work which was required at all stages.

Places of worship, with their open spaces, high roofs and unusual designs – the iconic spire at Notre Dame which dramatically collapsed in the middle of the inferno was made of wood – will inevitably have their vulnerabilities, so it is essential that the most sophisticated and effective fire protection systems possible are installed.

Firm evidence from France and elsewhere indicates that planned renovations can also be surrounded by particular dangers and potentially lead to the kind of catastrophic consequences witnessed in Paris.

It is appropriate that preparations for the rebuilding of Notre Dame, which is owned by the French ministry of culture, are already under way, with an invitation issued yesterday to leading architects over plans for a new spire.

The final cost will be colossal, but the true worth of the cathedral to the citizens of Paris and indeed the international community would be impossible to calculate.

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