Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Here's why we need a historic watchdog with teeth, says MLA

Controversial: demolition work has begun on Portstewart's historic Ice House

A new historic preservation watchdog with tougher powers is needed in Northern Ireland, an MLA has said after further demolition of Portstewart's old harbour ice house.

John Dallat said the current protections offered by the Environment and Heritage Service are "as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike when it comes to preserving buildings".

He made the call after a demolition crew moved in on Monday evening to take down sections of the historic ice house. A planning application has been submitted for apartments on the site, but not yet approved.

The demolition started on the old stone building on Saturday, but local residents intervened and the destruction came to a halt. But the crew returned on Monday to take down another section of the building.

"This ice house was part of the history of Portstewart," said Mr Dallat.

"It told the story of the hardship, and the risks taken by fishermen long before there was a proper harbour there. None of this is taken into consideration when the Environmental Heritage Service is making their decisions to list properties.

"Indeed there is an incentive to allow old buildings to fall into an advanced state of disrepair so that they are not listed and that must change. "

In Mr Dallat's view the best way to protect historically significant buildings was to establish an independent body with the power to " impose very severe penalties on those who are currently 'running a horse and cart' through the process".

"We have to end for all time the practice of bulldozing properties before planning approval is granted for replacement buildings," he said.

The Department of the Environment said the historic significance of the ice house had been considered, but it was decided not to list the building.

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