Developers want to turn the site into a nine-storey apartment complex with shops
A High Court judge has quashed decisions to demolish an historic Victorian building in Belfast city centre and replace it with apartments.
Planning chiefs must now reconsider an application to redevelop the 19th Century warehouse on Queen Street.
It was accepted a conservation area architect should have been consulted, and that a report did not include the costs for alternative schemes.
Heritage campaigners who mounted the challenge have welcomed the decision.
The legal bid to stop the Athletic Stores site from being torn down and rebuilt was brought by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.
Carlisle Property Developments Ltd wants to transform it into a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, street level shops and basement parking facilities.
The Society challenged the decision to pass the application by claiming Planning Service failed to consider the price of refurbishment work on a building located within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area.
It also argued the Department of Environment ignored the view of its own conservation officer who concluded that the loss of the warehouse and planned replacement would harm the area.
Lawyers for the Department contended that a surveyors report found the building is now over 110 years old and at the end of its useful life.
However, Mr Justice Treacy was told on Friday that the application to quash the planning permission decisions was no longer being resisted.
A lawyer for the DOE said it was recognised that the conservation area architect should have been consulted.
It was also accepted that the Society had a strong argument over costs for alternative schemes not being prepared.
The lawyer added that it was "not obvious" why the strong recommendations of the conservation officer were not followed.
"We recognise that there is a public interest in this type of case, in ensuring these things are conducted properly and also there is an interest in ensuring developers' planning permission applications are dealt with expeditiously and properly," he said.
Outside the court UAHS Research Officer Rita Harkin said they were deeply relieved the decisions had been quashed.
"We hope that the Department will now do its utmost as protectors of the environment to defend buildings of acknowledged interest in conservation areas," she said.
"This 19th Century linen warehouse is clearly exactly the kind of building that conservation area designation set out to protect."