Ulster Architectural Heritage and the Belfast Buildings Trust have called for everything possible to be done to save the surviving Bank Buildings structure.
While much of the internal structure of the historic building has collapsed, the historic facade is still standing. And both organisations have called on the relevant stakeholders to commit to its retention and repair, if at all possible.
A statement issued by Ulster Architectural Heritage, which promotes preservation and conservation of architecture across the province, said: “Tuesday’s catastrophic fire is the latest episode in the ongoing story of the cumulative loss of the heritage assets which are the soul of the city and without which its unique sense of place cannot survive.
“Ulster Architectural Heritage would like to see an immediate and clear commitment from Belfast City Council for the retention of the surviving Bank Buildings structure, shored up and made safe and, as with the Mackintosh (Art School in Glasgow which was devastated by fire), only essential and careful demolition undertaken with the removed stonework preserved for reuse in the rebuild.”
The charitable organisation also said Tuesday’s fire raises “important questions” about Belfast’s heritage assets and what measures are taken to protect them against fire.
Belfast Buildings Trust – a charity that delivers physical, social and economic regeneration through the reuse of Belfast’s landmark buildings – has already written to Belfast City Council and the Department for Communities calling on them to save the building and “bring it back to life”.
The organisation’s development manager, Shane Quinn, commented: “Everything must be done to save and rebuild this key building. It is crucial that Belfast shows the will and determination to bring the building back to life. No building in Belfast need be lost, no matter how badly fire-damaged. That fact is demonstrated in what was achieved at the nearby former Christchurch, which at one time also appeared to have been destroyed by fire.
“We are aware of the concerns about the building’s structural integrity, but the full extent of the damage will take time to assess. Rebuilding will require creativity and hard-effort, and we hope that the city and the building’s owners will make every effort possible to make sure that the Bank Buildings once again brings life to the city’s heart.”
Speaking to the News Letter at the scene of Tuesday’s fire, Mr Quinn said the building is “absolutely not lost”.
“There has been lots of discussion about the building being lost, but it is still there. The four walls are still up and as long as they are there that has to be where we start the conversation about how we make it right again and bring it back to what it was,” he said.
“Absolutely it is not lost and every effort now has to be made to make sure that it remains standing, what is left of it can be reused and then the conversation can move to the next point which will be about its full reuse.
“There is very clear public concern and interest. If any building makes built heritage relevant to people in Belfast it’s the Bank Buildings. People want to see it saved and reused.
“There are obviously concerns in an immediate sense about public safety, but there is no reason why we can’t make sure the structure is made safe and business as usual can return to the city centre very quickly.”