Listed buildings need better protection

Published Wednesday, 05 September 2012
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The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has been urged to make better use of its powers of protection for listed buildings in the region before irreplacable built heritage is damaged beyond repair.

Listed buildings need better protection
The Public Accounts Committee published the report on Wednesday. (© UTV)

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee also found that a better system is needed for the monitoring of buildings which have received a grant.

There are more than 8,500 listed buildings in Northern Ireland requiring monitoring and maintenance.

NIEA offers grant assistance to encourage conservation and listed buildings in certain categories are eligible for grant aid, no matter what condition they are in or their importance.

Over 830 listed buildings are currently owned by the public sector and 30 of these are on the Built Heritage at Risk register.

Michaela Boyle MLA, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the report found that NIEA needs "to act earlier and with greater use of enforcement powers to safeguard many listed buildings."

She explained: "For instance, failure by the NIEA to act in the case of the Stable Block at Sion Mills resulted in the deterioration of the signature building to a point where part of it had actually collapsed before NIEA finally stepped in to rescue it."

Ms Boyle also highlighted that despite spending almost £20 million awarding grants since 2005-06, "NIEA cannot measure the overall impact of this expenditure."

"The Committee expects to see grants targeted on the most vulnerable and valuable buildings, such as those on the Built Heritage at Risk Register."

The Sinn Féin MLA said that these buildings "cannot be allowed to go from being 'at risk' to 'beyond rescue'."

"The Committee welcomes the new protocol for improving the care of publicly owned listed buildings, but is aware of some listed buildings originally owned by public bodies that were in poor condition when they were sold," Ms Boyle continued.

"NIEA must be prepared to take timely and effective enforcement measures in such cases of neglect, including carrying out repairs directly and recouping the cost from the owners or, if necessary, vesting the building in order to rescue it.

Ms Boyle concluded: "There is a lot at stake here. If NIEA does not get to grips with enforcement and take early action where needed, we risk losing a part of our history and part of our culture which simply cannot be replaced."

The Report entitled 'Safeguarding Northern Ireland Listed Buildings' was published on Wednesday.

© UTV News
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