Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: We must protect our built heritage

The £150 fine imposed on a developer who demolished a listed building in Belfast without consent was astonishingly low, even if there were mitigating factors in the case.

Dermot Kennedy said the building was set on fire and then partially collapsed before he razed it to the ground for safety reasons.

Nevertheless he acted in contravention of the heritage laws, and before the Planning Service could examine the fire damaged building to give a verdict on what action to take. The leniency of the fine to a wealthy developer and businessman is being interpreted as a slap on the wrist to him, and a slap in the face to conservationists.

For this is by no means the first time that developers have escaped lightly after demolishing listed buildings. The value the courts put on our built heritage seems to be very low, and that is discouraging to those who want it protected and preserved. It is not that the law is wanting, for fines of up to £30,000 or a six months jail term can be imposed. While that is for blatant and wilful cases of destruction, any contravention of the law should carry a meaningful penalty.

It is important to protect the built heritage. Imagine if all the stately homes in Northern Ireland had been allowed to simply fall into ruin. The province would be immeasurably poorer for their loss. We also need to preserve the former homes of important figures. Shamefully, a home of our greatest living poet, Seamus Heaney, was allowed to be demolished. Properties such as that are part of the rich fabric of our society, not simply bricks and mortar. They add to our quality of life, much more so than some anonymous modern apartment block or housing scheme where the motivation is simply profit.

Breaches of the heritage laws should be dealt with severely to stop people being tempted to destroy first and answer questions later.

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