Demolition to hit ‘dwindling’ historic character of Belfast, says heritage group
AN architectural preservation body has objected to the demolition of a Victorian-era building in Belfast, saying its loss would further hit the “dwindling” historic character of the city centre.
Northern Ireland company Hegan last year won planning permission to demolish the three-storey building and replace it with a seven-storey, multi-million pound office block with a shop on the ground floor.
Hegan has owned the building at the junction of 46-52 Upper Queen Street and 11a Wellington Street for 60 years.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage (UAH) has made a late objection in a letter to Belfast City Council’s planning service.
It claimed the council appeared to be taking a “piecemeal” approach to demolition plans in conservation areas “rather than as contributing to ongoing cumulative loss and damage to the city’s dwindling historic character and distinctiveness”.
In the Countryside Assessment for Belfast City Council’s local development plan of 2017, the city centre is deemed one of 13 conservation areas, where the principle of development is to enhance the character or appearance of the area.
In the letter, the UAH’s John Anderson claimed planning committee members appeared to have had no awareness of the value of built heritage “and the distinctiveness and long-term sustainable economic and social benefit it delivers”.
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He said the short tenure of planning committee chairs was also a barrier to the acquisition of specialist knowledge.
Dating back to around 1860, the building on Upper Queen Street was recently home to a cafe, a barber and a shop. Last year, council planners recommended approving the new project, as the current building’s historical merit “was in age only”.
But the letter from Ulster Architectural Heritage cites the view of a conservation officer that because the buildings are the last surviving from the mid-Victorian period in the block, “therefore they have interest in terms of the city’s socio-economic history”.
The organisation also comments that the rest of the street is dominated by “characterless blocks of glazed and clad square footage” which were the product of “years of inexcusable lack of attention to planning policy and developer pressure”.
It adds: “For the council to suggest that the proposed seven-storey block will enhance or at best do no harm to the conservation area is unsupportable. On the contrary, the demolition of these buildings would render Upper Queen Street suitable for its conservation area status to be removed.”
The UAH said it wished the objection to be placed before the planning committee in good time to be digested before the application is considered.
However, at its June meeting, the planning committee gave its approval to the plans, citing a finding of the Historic Environment Division that the buildings were not of enough architectural and/or historical interest to merit listing.
Belfast Telegraph Digital