The owner of a 234-year-old house in a conservation area that was allegedly demolished without planning permission has said storm damage brought it down.
Bronagh Curran, director of PC Construction and Development Ltd, said the former farmhouse in the city of Armagh posed a health and safety risk and had become "totally unstable".
She hopes to rebuild it in the same style. The 'White House' is thought to have been built sometime between 1761 and 1835, as a farmhouse with outbuildings. It pre-dates the St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, one of its neighbours.
It was demolished on February 13 and building work began on the site. However, planners have now issued a stop notice.
Marc Dermody-Lennon, whose relatives lived in the house until the 1920s, was concerned that it had been allowed to fall into a dilapidated state, particularly as it is next door to a listed building that he owns. He said that although the White House was unlisted, it lay within the cathedral's Conservation Zone.
A number of planning applications had been made to demolish the building and replace it with a larger building incorporating a supermarket, off-licence and flats, but none were approved, he said.
"It has been confirmed by the Planning Office that this is a criminal offence and carries a maximum fine of £100,000 for illegal demolition. On top of the fine, it is also usual that the building must be rebuilt "like for like", something that will now be nearly impossible as the building was 234 years old," he said.
"We own the 1885 listed Victorian building next to the demolished building and are absolutely horrified, as we did not even get a letter to inform us of this illegal demolition nor were we given a chance to protect our listed building, and we now fear that the external and internal structure of our listed building might have suffered."
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society said it has written to Environment Minister Mark H Durkan asking him to take action. Vice chairman Primrose Wilson said: "It's not listed, but it's just beside a listed building so it's within the curtilage of a listed building. Anyone who wishes to demolish a building in a conservation zone has to apply to Planning Service to do so."
Owner Bronagh Curran told the Belfast Telegraph that she is trying to get the site ready in time for the arrival of the Giro cycle race in Armagh.
"The building had been out of use for several years and it was a health and safety risk," she said.
"The building wasn't demolished – the back section fell out of it in the storm and we were trying to clear the inside of the building out. The back section collapsed and the front was totally unstable.
"We have kept the original material and are going to build it up in the same style. Underneath is quite nice stone and we are hoping to leave it with a stone finish."
Ms Curran said a planning application has been with Planning Service since 2006 but new amended drawings are currently out for consultation.
She said she is hoping to put a new roof on the building in time to have the site cleared up for the arrival of the Giro race.
A Department of Environment spokesman said: "DOE Planning became aware that significant works were taking place at No.6 Cathedral Road on the afternoon of Thursday, February 13 and immediately dispatched an enforcement officer for a site inspection who found that the building had been substantially demolished.
"DOE Planning commenced an investigation into the matter and in the days following the demolition works the department observed the commencement of construction activity at No. 6 Cathedral Road.
"The department has since served a temporary stop notice requiring all works to cease. The notice has effect for 28 days during which time the department will consider what further measures or action is needed to address the matter.
"As a result of the demolition works, the planning application submitted to redevelop No 6 Cathedral Road has been amended and now incorporates the reconstruction of part of No 6 Cathedral Road. This amended scheme will be re-advertised in the local press on March 6."