Belfast Telegraph

Any city worth its salt preserves its history

Editor's Viewpoint

Sailortown in Belfast's dockland is only a shadow of the thriving community it once was. Like other parts of the city, for example the area now occupied by CastleCourt shopping centre, the old streets and their homes have fallen to the developers.

Now Sailortown is in danger of losing a landmark building, the former St Joseph's Church, which a local regeneration group had hoped to turn into a centre showcasing the area's maritime and industrial heritage. A demolition order has been granted and the building could be razed before the regeneration group finds out if its application for funding for the project is successful.

Read More: Demolition fears after Belfast church designated 'dangerous building'

There is no doubt that the church is in poor condition, but it has been allowed to wither to that state.

In a country where history - especially historic grievance - is held onto doggedly, it is astonishing how often historic buildings are allowed to decay or fall before the developers' wrecking ball.

Anyone looking at Belfast today can only marvel at the amount of development taking place, from new hotels to student accommodation. That is a sign of confidence in the future of the city and is to be welcomed after decades when terrorists tried to rip the heart out of the capital.

Yet surely it is possible to marry the desire for new development with the preservation of the historic.

Translink has promised its new transport hub on the fringes of Sandy Row will incorporate, not destroy, the Boyne Bridge, which is on the site of the original bridge crossed by King William of Orange.

St Joseph's cannot claim a royal connection, but embedded in its bricks and mortar are the memories and spirit of a now largely dispersed community.

Above its door is a plaque erected in memory of two little girls killed in a 1972 loyalist car bomb. The girls, who had been dressed as witches celebrating Halloween, were buried from the church.

Any city worth its salt preserves its built heritage where possible. It creates a sense of belonging among the local population as well as providing a tourism attraction. How often do we plan our city breaks on the historic buildings we can visit? Seldom do we take into account modern concrete and glass monstrosities. Planners should work where possible with local groups and communities to preserve the best of our history before it is lost forever.

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