Belfast Telegraph

Call for partnership approach to help protect Northern Ireland built heritage

 

Crumlin Road Courthouse
Crumlin Road Courthouse
Ormiston House
Cultra Station
Musgrave Police Station
Ballycopeland Windmill
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Significant strides have been made in preserving Northern Ireland's architectural heritage despite challenging times within local government, according to the Department for Communities.

The latest Government Historic Estate report revealed updates on 1,340 buildings owned or leased by the state.

And it said that stronger partnerships need to be fostered to ensure unique heritage assets are brought back into social and economic use.

Ulster Architectural Heritage, which works to promote and protect the historic built environment, welcomed the report.

But it warned that many buildings are being allowed to slowly deteriorate.

"Still 3.3% of the Government's listed historic buildings are recorded as being on the heritage at risk register for Northern Ireland," chief executive Nicola McVeigh said.

"This may not take into account buildings no longer in Government ownership that may be at risk and can suffer many years of neglect having been sold in the absence of firm plans.

"Any building in state care should not be transferred without this in place.

"Especially those listed for their architectural and historical importance.

"Options of commercial ownership or community asset transfer may be viable to address the issue of those buildings at risk in state care.

"However, the success of transfer should be dependent on community benefit, the shovel-ready availability of funding, and a sustainable long-term plan.

"Ideally the default position might be for such buildings to remain in Government for reuse in the public ownership, as an alternative to Government departments' ongoing rental payments to commercial interests."

Ormiston House, Belvoir Park Hospital, Cultra Station, Crumlin Road Courthouse and Riddel's Warehouse are among the sites to have been disposed of by public bodies.

Among the major projects to have benefited since a consistent approach to the management of heritage assets was adopted in 2011 were works to the roof of the Grade A listed Parliament Buildings at Stormont and the award-winning restoration at Ballycopeland Windmill in Millisle.

"This has been a period of exceptional change, owing not only to the continuing impacts of the financial crisis but also the restructuring of the functions and services of the formerly 12 Government departments to nine," the report said.

It praised local councils following the transfer of some of the property assets for work in a time of organisational change and financial constraint

Department for Communities permanent secretary Tracy Meharg said she hoped the proactive approach to finding new uses for old buildings continued.

"This report shows increased emphasis on partnership and innovative solutions to get our unique heritage assets back into social and economic use," she said.

"I very much hope that all departments will be proactive in keeping buildings in active use as they are a key resource which, in addition to their heritage interest, are an important part of our surroundings, contribute to community pride and help strengthen our economy."

Some well-known landmarks still on the 'at risk' list include Crumlin Road Courthouse, Gosford Castle and the former Erne Hospital in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

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