Historic Holywood Building threatened with demolition

1 Stewart's Place to left with restored
3 Stewart's Place to the right
Last minute efforts are underway to save a well-known historic building on the gateway into Holywood which is being threatened with demolition due to fears of imminent collapse.

Having previously campaigned to save the site at number 1 Stewarts Place I am angered the owner has let the situation get so out of hand, despite previous involvement by Department of the Environment Department, at my request.

Late w/c 27 June I was both shocked and saddened to learn that an application for demolition has been made for Number 1 Stewart’s Place is an iconic building in the heart of Holywood.  Listed in the 1970s, the building is the other part of the ‘Stewart’s Place pair’ and forms part of the Holywood Conservation Area, but unfortunately the property has been on the Built Heritage at Risk Northern Ireland Register for a number of years. It’s other half, No 3 Stewart’s Place was restored by Hearth Housing Association in 1993.

Whilst the large cut in Grant Funding to restore listed buildings hasn’t helped this building, the owner must take responsibility for how badly it has fallen into disrepair.  In 2011 I managed to get the Department for the Environment to threaten the owner with issuing of a Urgent Works Notice to repair the building but it now seems the emergency repairs effected in the face of this threat were merely cosmetic.

Stewart’s Place is thought to have been built around 1840 by William Lowry, with numbers one and three forming a pair of three-storey stucco houses with rounded corners and were named after the first post-master of Holywood Hugh Stewart. 

An independent report commissioned by Ards and North Down Borough Council’s Planning Department has recently reported ‘the only viable option in this instance is the complete demolition of the building’, adding it was ‘in the interests of public safety’.

It is unacceptable that the owner has shirked responsibility of looking after this building, with external groups such as the Holywood Conservation Group previously providing their own funds to refresh the exterior via installation of trompe l’oeil feature windows.

The report commissioned by Ards and North Down Council is stark reading and a sad indictment of how we value our Built Heritage in Northern Ireland. History has many examples of buildings left to fall into disrepair until demolition left as seemingly the only option.

A clear difference of opinion has however emerged concerning whether demolition is the only option with other experts strongly disagreeing with the reports ultimate finding that demolition is the only solution. Whilst public safety is of paramount important I feel it’s vital we explore all avenues and ensure all evidence has been considered before a decision is made and the wrecking ball appears. Once demolished this building will be lost forever. An urgent meeting is therefore being sought with Planning Department representatives before the a decision is made on the demolition application which could be as early as next week. The views of relevant bodies such as the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, Hearth and Holywood Conservation Group must be given due consideration.

The story of 1 Stewart’s Place must act as wake up call for government to take firmer action against developers who let building fall into ruins and improve Grant Support to enable restoration of historic buildings at risk.

Withholding of Cairn Wood documents raises concerns

The withholding of documents concerning plans to sell and develop Cairn Wood raises yet more concerns about what’s been agreed behind closed doors.

I previously requested that government departments outline what’s been discussed and agreed about Cairn Wood via a Freedom of Information request. The information was held back until after the election but when received significant portions have been withheld surrounding the deal to transfer Cairn Wood from NI Water to the Forestry Service.

For far too long users of Cairn Wood Forest have been left in the dark over what’s on the horizon. By submitting the Freedom of Information request I hoped to secure some transparency over plans agreed but sadly the information has been withheld and we are still awaiting firm details on what NI Water and the Forestry Service plan for Cairn Wood.

Recent Ministerial Question Time thankfully provided an opportunity to quiz the new Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen on the issue. I am grateful for my colleague Chris Lyttle MLA for his contribution and look forward to meeting Minister McIlveen on the issue to find out what’s planned.

Muir welcomes Conlig Reservoirs sale u-turn

I welcome news from Northern Ireland Water concerning previous plans to sell two Reservoirs in Conlig Village. I have been lobbying NI Water to drop plans to sell the environmental havens and recently was informed:

NI Water has not advertised these reservoirs for sale on the private market, and have no immediate plans to do so.

Experience indicates that there is a very limited (almost non-existent!) market for this type of property.  NI Water will only take forward the sale of property that we believe will sell and return best value.

After making contact with NI Water in response to concerns from a local resident that the Reservoirs could be sold I was disturbed to receive a response from NI Water which stated  ‘Within the past few weeks we have had some enquiries regarding the status of the reservoirs, and potential for private sale’. These comments caused legitimate anxiety and, as a result, I sought clarity on the matter.

With the election period no progress was possible due to Civil Service rules on not commenting nor meeting on such matters but with the elections now over I again made contact and have been informed that no plans exist to sell the reservoirs on the private market and that a “very limited (almost non-existent!) market” exists. I welcome this news but will continue to monitor the situation especially in light of fact that a previous attempt was made to rezone the areas for housing via the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan. It’s vital that we protect our Green Spaces for future generations to enjoy, once sold they risk being lost forever.