Northern Ireland Science Park faces court over fence at Titanic dry dock
A technology and entrepreneurial centre is facing prosecution after it was accused of interfering with an historic site where the Titanic last sat on dry land.
Court proceedings have been brought against the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP) over fencing erected at Thompson Dock on Queen's Island in Belfast.
The dock, where Titanic was fitted out before her ill-fated maiden voyage, is protected as an historic scheduled monument.
Since NISP took over the site and associated pump house more than a decade ago it has been refurbished and transformed into one of Northern Ireland's top tourist attractions.
But the Environment Agency is now pursuing legal action for alleged unauthorised work near a caisson chamber which operates the dock gate.
The charge has provoked dismay among science park chiefs.
They contend that the fencing was put up in 2011 to protect an asset and to help ensure visitors get to see Titanic's footprint.
A contested hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court was adjourned yesterday to ensure all relevant documents are provided.
But when the case resumes next month lawyers for NISP are expected to defend the charge by claiming mapping used for the scheduling was flawed and that fencing has been there for more than 100 years.
Millions of pounds have been spent on restoring the dock and pump house where completion work on Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic was carried out.
The site has been described by Nasa astronauts as the Cape Canaveral of 1911.
Since being opened to the public in 2008 it has proved a huge tourist draw.
NISP is also set to argue that the fencing was erected on the advice of health and safety consultants.
Without access controls insurance would not have been provided, the science park contends.
According to its case, the dock could be closed to the public, putting up to eight jobs at risk, if the fence has to come down.
In a statement issued after yesterday's hearing, NISP insisted it has continuously sought to enhance and improve an important part of industrial heritage.
"We have brought it from a monument on the 'at risk' register to one of Northern Ireland's leading tourist attractions," a spokesman said.