Belfast Telegraph

Belfast landmark damaged by demolition work, claims heritage body

Council launches investigation into allegations at listed former Bank of Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Belfast City Council is investigating allegations that demolition work damaged a landmark listed building.

The work on North Street is alleged to have harmed the former Bank of Ireland, an Art-Deco-style, B+ listed structure on the junction with Royal Avenue in the city centre.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) lodged a complaint with the council regarding the claims.

The UAHS said it had lobbied government for decades on the need for more effective legislation to protect Northern Ireland's historic buildings.

It added it was heartened when the new super-councils took over planning powers, including enforcement and some tools for the protection of the environment, in April 2015.

However, the organisation also claimed that the council had failed to respond to questions regarding its actions before and following the demolition work, which was carried out in November last year.

"The UAHS awaits Belfast City Council's detailed response on matters arising at North Street, and would again reiterate the urgency of the need for an across-the-board political will to stop damage to our national built heritage asset," a UAHS spokesperson said.

A council spokeswoman confirmed an investigation into the damage claims had been launched.

"The council was made aware of the alleged damage to the listed building at 92-100 Royal Avenue on Friday February 24, and an enforcement case was immediately opened," the council spokeswoman explained.

"As this investigation is still ongoing, we are unable to comment further on this case at this time."

"Unauthorised works to a listed building is an offence under Section 85 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 and may be the subject of enforcement action and also subsequent court action.

"Our planning team has, and continues to, correspond with the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society regarding their specific queries."

The old Bank of Ireland building was designed by architect JV Downes of McDonnell & Dixon in Dublin, and construction began in 1928 at the corner site in the centre of the city.

The structure is finished in Portland limestone and includes five storeys, three bays along North Street and four bays on Royal Avenue.

The corner is capped by an Art Deco-style tower and clock and also features decorative metal panels between its large number of windows.

It was awarded Grade B+ listed status on 1 October 1990.

The building closed in 2005, when the bank moved to new premises on Donegall Square South. The property subsequently fell into disrepair.

Occupy Belfast protesters moved into the building in 2012, remaining there for a number of weeks.

The former Bank of Ireland was sold for an undisclosed sum in 2015 by commercial property firm Lisney, along with properties at nearby Kent Street and North Street.

It is expected the building will become an integral part of the £300m Northside project.

The planned development will include residential, commercial, retail and leisure facilities and is designed to reinvigorate the north of the city centre.

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