Delay to listed buildings survey putting historic structures at risk
The future of a number of irreplaceable historic buildings could be in jeopardy because a Government survey will not be completed for another 10 years.
Today's Audit Office report voices concern that the survey, recommended in its 2012 report, is not scheduled to be finished until 2026. Northern Ireland's built heritage - described in the report as an "irreplaceable cultural asset" - includes some 8,500 listed buildings.
Most of these are in private ownership, but around 10% are publicly-owned.
The report noted that Northern Ireland's historic environment is a vital component of our economy, and in 2012 it was estimated it generated £532m annually and sustained 10,000 jobs.
In 2012 the Public Accounts Committee made a number of recommendations, including progress on a survey to identify buildings suitable for listing (now known as the 'second survey').
The committee recommended that a formal plan be put in place to ensure that the listed buildings survey is completed as soon as practicable - and by 2020 at the latest, warning there should be no further slippage. In October 2013 a contractor was appointed by the then Department of the Environment for the completion of the second survey, priced at £957,000.
But reductions in the department's budget for 2015-16 resulted in its decision to terminate that contract. It had paid out £503,000 by that stage, and also had to pay out an additional compensatory payment of £80,000 to the contractor for early termination of the deal.
Around 65% of Northern Ireland had been surveyed.
The report warned: "Structures awaiting a listing decision are at risk of alteration or demolition because they do not have the protection afforded by listing."
It noted that in March 2015 the department's internal audit had raised concerns over the delay between the completion of survey work and a listing decision being made.
At the end of 2014-15 there were 1,400 records awaiting processing.
The department (now the Department for Communities) is set to complete the second survey in-house. It is aiming to prioritise those buildings to be surveyed in order of risk by 2020, and complete the entire second survey by 2026.