Listing Belfast’s best buildings helps keep the city beautiful

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The listing of a dozen buildings in Belfast is welcome.

The city has fine architecture, mostly from the 19th century, and when buildings from that era are lost, they are typically replaced by inferior modern buildings.

This is because it has become prohibitively expensive to build buildings to the standard that was often reached in the 1800s and early 1900s, and few organisations have the wealth to fund top-class new buildings.

Churches are among the few such organisations that consistently build fine buildings. It was important to see Martyrs Memorial Church included in the batch of new listed names.

It is an eccentric building with an important history, given that the Rev Ian Paisley built it at the end of the 1960s because he needed space to accommodate his growing congregations.

The Department of Environment experts decided it was worthy of B1 listing status, which meant it was “a good example of a particular period or style”.

It is understandable that the church has ambivalent feelings about the honour, because it means that work on it in future could be constrained.

For the same reasons owners of listed buildings often have such ambivalence about the status given to their property.

But listing is a crucial form of heritage protection. In the absence of it, many of our finest structures would have been demolished to make way for cheaper buildings out of which developers can make more profit.

Many good buildings have been lost in any event, either through bomb damage in the Second World War or during the Troubles, or because they were illegally demolished (typically resulting in slap-on-the-wrist fines).

Almost worse though is when they are legally demolished because they lack the listed status that they deserve.

Every time this happens, Belfast becomes a fractionally less beautiful city.