Anger at loss of three Belfast buildings ahead of listing decision

The three buildings (centre of picture) which were demolished in North Street, Belfast
The three buildings (centre of picture) which were demolished in North Street, Belfast

The weekend demolition of three Belfast properties being considered for ‘listed’ status has angered building conservationists.

An application for listing was due to go before city councillors at this month’s planning committee meeting – having been approved by the Department for Communties (DfC) as meeting the “statutory test” for protection.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) said it is outraged that the buildings were demolished just weeks before the committee’s decision.

In a statement released on Thursday, the UAHS added: “Following the weekend demolition yet another significant portion of our attractive architectural past has been destroyed. As north Belfast’s heritage, building by building, reduces to a pile of broken bricks and photographs in a forgotten file, future generations and visitors are denied the experience of the original Belfast.

“On March 11, 2016 UAHS submitted to the Department for Communities, Historic Environment Division a listing request for these three buildings.”

The statement goes on to say: “The destruction of our finite and irreplaceable historic building stock is now at shocking levels.

“We are unnecessarily losing historic buildings in Belfast which any other city or jurisdiction would give priority to preserve, in a city that has ample vacant development land.

“Every heritage asset lost represents another blow to Belfast’s potential to promote tourism, economic investment, social regeneration and cohesion through restoration of its historic buildings.”

The UAHS has said it will seek an urgent meeting with Communities Minister Paul Givan, and added: “Urgent reassessment of the approach to the practical protection of historic buildings must be addressed, not only in north Belfast but across Northern Ireland.”

A spokeswoman for DfC confirmed the application was due to be considered by the council this month, and said: “The Department for Communities can confirm that 95-107 North Street, Belfast were being considered for listing under the provisions of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. After review, the department considered that they met the statutory test for listing, and the Historic Buildings Council had agreed with this view. In line with standard procedures, letters seeking the view of Belfast City Council, and informing the buildings’ owners of the listing consideration, were issued in late October.

“At the date of demolition, the listing process was incomplete and the buildings were therefore not listed.”

The spokeswoman added: “The department considers that the historic environment can deliver significant community and economic benefit, and that the incorporation of older buildings can enhance development schemes.

“The department is always ready to engage with owners, developers and district councils to advise on ways to achieve this.”