Rescued from destruction

BALLYRONAN House, a former police station, has been spot-listed by planners after it was threatened with demolition – but two weeks earlier planners raised no objection when a 1920s house by the same architects was flattened, to the dismay of conservationists.

The decision to save the ex-station at Ballyneill Road in Ballyronan, outside Magherafelt, has been welcomed by heritage groups but comes shortly after the News Letter contacted planners asking why they allowed an architecturally similar building in Co Down to go under the bulldozer.

Conservationists lost a two-year battle to save the inter-war house from demolition in Bangor.

Experts say the 1924 house at Knockmore Park was as important as Ballyronan because its design helped influence the later police stations.

It was razed to the ground two weeks ago despite fierce opposition from local residents and the entire North Down Borough Council.

Both properties were built by top architects of the era RI Smith and TFO Rippingham, of the then newly founded Northern Ireland government.

Conservationists are particularly upset that the property was in a proposed Area of Townscape Character (ATC), a designation which is intended to help protect certain areas from inappropriate development.

Planning permission has to be granted for any demolition in an ATC and to the astonishment of campaigners it was granted.


Green Party MLA Brian Wilson said the planners' decision to allow demolition left the impression that the designation of ATC is "totally ineffective".

Ian McQuiston, from the Bangor West Conservation Group, said: "We campaigned for nearly two years to try and save what we felt was a building of considerable architectural and historical significance.

"But, unfortunately, Planning Service and Environmental and Heritage Service didn't agree with us."

The house was built for Major Percy Shepherd OBE, director of works in the newly established government – and the brains behind the Lough Erne and Lower Bann drainage schemes.

Mr McQuiston accused Planning Service of being inconsistent.

"On the one hand Planning Service sees it as a special area (because of its ATC status] and then they're saying it doesn't really contribute to anything and is without significance.

"This was a building that deserved to survive," he said.

"I am glad that Ballyronan has been saved – but alongside the demolition of Knockmore it is ironic."

North Down Borough Council unanimously voted for the building to be retained.

"One has to question the democracy of the system which doesn't take into consideration the views of the local community and its local representatives," said Mr McQuiston.

A spokeswoman for Planning Service said: "The application was assessed against all relevant policies and plans and consideration was taken of third party representations before a decision was issued."

She said the house did not meet listed building criteria.

Listed building

The former station in Ballyronan, however, was granted a Building Preservation Notice (BPN) by Environment and Heritage Service, giving it a listed building status for six months.

Environment Minister Arlene Foster said: "Our built heritage provides a tangible connection to our shared past and we should protect its best features.

"I commend EHS for taking action to save this building."