As reported in Friday's Belfast Telegraph I am calling for more action to save listed buildings after discovering that only two Urgent Works Notices have been issued by NI Environment Agency in the last ten years.
I discovered the shocking statistic after submitting a Freedom of Information request. The response details that one Urgent Works Notice was issued in 2004/05 and one in 2008/09. Urgent Works Notices are issued when government intervenes to undertake emergency repairs to save historic listed buildings.
I had previously contacted the NI Environment Agency about a listed building close to the Priory at Stewarts Place, Holywood. Constituents have been raising concerns about the ongoing deterioration of this building and I wanted to ensure the NI Environment Agency was taking all the necessary actions to stop it falling into a even worse state of disrepair.
This listed building is an important part of Holywood's landscape and shouldn't be allowed to deteriorate any further. I understand it was built in 1840 by William Lowry and named after the first post-master of Holywood, Hugh Stewart. I fear that if remedial action isn't taken soon demolition will next be suggested as a fait accompli.
When I contacted the NI Environment Agency I was informed;
"We confirm we had been in negotiations with the owner regarding the proposed refurbishment of 1 Stewarts Place, Holywood, however due to the recent downturn the proposals are on hold.
When the proposals were postponed we made the owners aware of their responsibility to ensure that the building was safeguarded from any further deterioration.
As a response to your enquiry we have written to the owner again to reiterate this responsibility and have suggested the following specific work items are carried out; removal of vegetation, ventilation to boarded windows, repair of rainwater goods and making good of any areas of missing or defective render”.
With the degree of risk associated with this building considered to be High I wasn’t prepared to accept such a lax approach with merely a letter being sent asking for work to be carried out. I then asked when Urgent Repairs Notices have been served. With only two notices issued in the last ten years government is obviously reluctant to take decisive action. I utterly condemn this laissez faire attitude. Property owners shouldn't be allowed to sit back and watch listed buildings in their ownership to rot and decay.
A stronger enforcement regime is required to ensure no more fine buildings are lost across North Down and beyond. I will continue to highlight this issue and to ensure protection of listed buildings appears higher up the Environment Minister's Agenda.