Listed status bid to save Belfast's Sunflower bar from wrecking ball
The campaign to save Belfast's Sunflower pub from demolition has received a boost with Stormont's Environment Minister agreeing to consider granting it listed building status.
Mark H Durkan has ordered officials to explore the possibility of protection for the Union Street building, with its famous security cage entrance, following a request from Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown.
It emerged in November, soon after the venue won best city bar at the Pubs of Ulster awards, that the Sunflower could face the wrecking ball as properties in the area were earmarked for the Northside Regeneration programme supported by the Department for Social Development.
Thousands of students and staff from Ulster University are preparing to move into the district as it is turned into halls and apartment blocks.
A Save The Sunflower campaign was subsequently launched on social media, drawing support from more than 5,000 fans of Pedro Donald's popular tavern.
Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Fall actor Jamie Dornan is among those to back the retention of the pub, which ended up with its well-known security cage after being targeted several times in the Troubles, including a 1988 gun attack by loyalist terrorists in which three patrons died.
Around two years ago the Department for Regional Development requested the removal of the cage over access and liability concerns, but later backed down.
Regarded as one of the strongest features of the bar, the cage was painted pink for the Giro d'Italia and is often adorned with hanging baskets.
The same cage could now be its saviour as officials look closely at the merits of the building.
Alliance councillor Mr McDonough-Brown spoke of the responsibility to maintain and protect our built heritage, adding that the Sunflower was "well established and well integrated into the cultural life of Belfast".
"A city without a soul is a city without a future, and as we build Belfast we have to balance the need for development with the need to safeguard the places people love," he said. "I believe that the building should be listed as a rare form of its type in the vicinity. Its caged entrance is distinctive. It should be considered for its historic interest on the grounds that a pub has been in existence on that site for some 100 years."
In a letter seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Durkan said the Department of the Environment had not included a full survey of the Sunflower in a recent scoping exercise of the area but will now evaluate it against the criteria for listing.
Mr Durkan said he was "a fan of bars" and hopes to make a visit to the Sunflower soon.
The SDLP man, who last year reversed a decision to remove listed status from Kelly's Cellars in Belfast, told this paper he was aware of the strong public support for the Sunflower and was listening to concerns about its future.
"There is a lot of support for the retention of this building and an online petition calling on me to consider its future," he said. "I have instructed my officials to have another look at the building with a view to examining its value and the case for its listing."
The minister's comments were welcomed by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.
Chief executive Nicola McVeigh said: "We are pleased to see our local elected representatives being more proactive in efforts to protect Belfast's built heritage.
"We would encourage more Belfast City councillors to get behind the protection of historic buildings in designation and development of future local and regeneration plans.
"The Sunflower bar does not currently benefit from conservation area or listed status, and this leaves it very vulnerable to demolition."