An application to demolish a Co Down parochial house to make way for a children’s nursery has been refused on conservation grounds.
Ards North Down councillors at this week’s council planning committee followed planning officer recommendations and refused an application by Saba Investments to knock down the parochial house at Millisle Road, Donaghadee.
The site is within the southern boundary of the Donaghadee conservation zone. The house, a two storey villa, has been vacant for a long period, and despite having boarded up windows and a dilapidated wooden balcony, was described in the council case report as appearing to be “structurally sound.”
The principal architect involved in the application, Noel Orr, told councillors the nursery plan was not economically feasible if it involved regenerating the building, and added there was support in around Donaghadee to replace the building.
Planning officer Gail Kerr said the council was not against a nursery in the area, and said this could be acceptable with a regeneration scheme.
She added: “Just because there may be community support for demolition it doesn’t make it acceptable under policy terms.
“A good example is the old Town Hall in Donaghadee. That sat for years as a ruin of a building and would not have been seen as an asset visually to the area but it was an important addition to that conservation area.
“No matter how long that sat there, we would not have accepted any plan for demolition of that building. A scheme came forward, and there has been a very successful regeneration.
“Financial arguments alone are not enough to justify demolition. It is widely accepted that buildings within conservation areas do impose additional restrictions and yes, sometimes financial burdens on their owners.
"This has to be balanced against the wider value of the building in terms of the contribution to the historical, architectural and cultural heritage of the place it resides.”
The house was built between 1902 and 1903, for William Henry Connolly, a mineral water manufacturer, and was designed by Belfast architect William John Fennell, who also designed the Cooke Centenary Presbyterian Church on Ormeau Road. It was sold to the local Catholic parish in the 1930s.
Alliance councillor Gavin Walker proposed the committee support the officer’s recommendation and refuse the demolition plan.
He said: “I think the argument can be made very strongly for the relevance of this building to Donaghadee.
“We have spent a lot of time and a substantial amount of money in the last few years to create a real feeling of historic sense and place in Donaghadee, of which this building is a part.
“I appreciate it’s been empty for a long time and I’m sure it’s a difficult building for a developer to deal with. But that’s just the way things are.”
Eleven councillors voted in favour of the refusal, with two supporting the application.