Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 14:36 UK

Challenge to Victorian demolition

The building on Queen Street
Developers want to turn the site into a nine-storey apartment complex with shops

Heritage campaigners have won High Court permission to challenge the planned demolition of a Victorian building in Belfast city centre.

A judge ruled tearing down the 19th Century warehouse should be based on more than just economic reasons because it is in a conservation area.

Carlisle Property Developments wants to transform the Queen Street site.

But the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is seeking a judicial review of the decision to pass its application.

The developers want to turn the site into a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, shops and basement parking.

Mr Justice Weatherup confirmed he was prepared to impose an injunction to protect the building until the final outcome of the legal case.

Lawyers for the UAHS argued that Planning Service chiefs failed to consider the cost of repairs before approving the demolition application.

They also claimed the Department of Environment ignored the view of its own conservation officer when it passed a bid to bring down a building located within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area.

The court heard the warehouse was assessed as making a contribution to the character or appearance of an area which would be harmed by its loss.

Lawyers for the Department pointed out that planning permission for the scheme was first granted in June 1998 - just a month after the area was designated conservation status.

Detail of top of door
When it comes to conservation area buildings it seems to me there are considerations that go beyond the economic case
Mr Justice Weatherup

A surveyors report on the condition of the building concluded that it was now over 110 years old and at the end of its useful life.

It was stressed that the plan was to replace it with a "sympathetic" development without the major faults and safety risks said to currently exist.

The developer's legal team criticised the UAHS for taking 11 months to bring an objection to the planning application, claiming this had caused significant financial pressures.

It was also stressed that the current building was, in parts, dangerous and beyond economic repair.

But granting leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Weatherup held it may be arguable that the proper approach to its removal was not followed.

"When it comes to conservation area buildings it seems to me there are considerations that go beyond the economic case," he said.

He stressed, however, that the case simply called for further explanation from planning authorities which may satisfy the court.

Listing the full judicial review hearing for December, Mr Justice Weatherup was told by a lawyer for the developer that he would recommend giving an undertaking not to carry out any work on the site until proceedings are completed.

Speaking outside the court, Rita Harkin, research officer with the UAHS, said: "This is an absolutely critical case which will expose just how effective conservation areas are in conserving the historic buildings which give them their character."

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