Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Angela Dunbar

We can regenerate communities and still respect heritage assets if new proposals are properly implemented

The plight of our heritage has made headlines over recent months, resulting in Environment Minister Alex Attwood holding a heritage crime summit. Amid these grey storm clouds is an example of a heritage regeneration proposal which demonstrates how statutory bodies, in particular the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) are working alongside a private developer to deliver a future for one of Northern Ireland's oldest industrial sites to match its illustrious past.

The William Clark and Sons' Linen Mill is one of the longest continuously operating industrial sites in the region with its unique process of beetling - the finishing of linen by pressing the material to give it a flat and lustrous effect. The complex in Upperlands, a few miles from Maghera, has been involved in the linen manufacturing business since 1736. The present day site with its bleach green and diverse range of buildings tells the story of the full linen finishing process.

Today large parts of the mill complex are either vacant or derelict as the operational needs of the existing business can be accommodated within a smaller area. A proposal currently being promoted by JHT (Upperlands) Ltd seeks to ensure that this prized asset is safeguarded for future generations with key buildings reused in a sympathetic manner for residential units, exhibition space, community facilities and employment opportunities.

The proposal will not only revive the village of Upperlands, but will inject an estimated £27m into the local economy as well as providing 200 construction jobs.

There is the temptation to wrap our heritage assets in cotton wool - costly curiosities in our communities. Our heritage can provide an opportunity to deliver significant regeneration benefits, not just the retention of the physical bricks and mortar but genuine social and economic gains.

There can surely be no better way to protect our built heritage than for developers, planners and the Government to work together to ensure that these important buildings are given a new lease of life and actively incorporated into neighbourhoods.

Angela Dunbar is from Turley Associates

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