Northern Ireland funding cuts fuel heritage building fears

Research finds 650 buildings lose their protected listed status over 20 years

Mount Panther site in Clough, Co Down: the 18th-century site is among the heritage buildings most at risk over  Northern Ireland funding cuts.

Mount Panther site in Clough, Co Down: the 18th-century site is among the heritage buildings most at risk over Northern Ireland funding cuts.

 

Almost 500 historic buildings across Northern Ireland are deemed to be at risk, with fears the number could rise after the removal of restoration funding.

The Northern Ireland Department of Environment’s funding for restoration projects fell from £4.4million (€6 million) in 2014/2015 to zero for the current financial year – although £500,000 was provided through the plastic-bag levy fund.

The new research into Stormont’s protection of historic sites, carried out by the Belfast-based Detail Data journalism project, also found 650 buildings have lost their protected listed status over the last 20 years.

Campaigners have claimed government investment in restoring heritage buildings is shown to yield major returns by leveraging funding and creating jobs.

Recession setbacks

Built Heritage adviser Rita Harkin said: “The Department has completely lost sight of the need, during recessions especially, to grow the construction industry which needs a shot in the arm.

“The grant aid scheme was designed to help meet the recognised additional costs of repair and maintenance of listed buildings.

“In its absence, it is inevitable that, in many cases, these essential works will not take place. Special buildings, worthy of protection in the public interest, are bound to become increasingly ‘at risk’.”

The North’s Department of Environment defended its record, citing pressures caused by budget cuts and loss of civil service staff, but underlined that efforts were being made to make funding available.

The condition of the 496 vulnerable structures – which include castles, mills, schools, terraces and towers – is recorded in the Built Heritage at Risk Register which was last year removed from the department’s website.

Mount Panther

The buildings at greatest risk include the 18th-century Mount Panther site in Clough, Co Down, plus Kilwaughter Castle in Larne, Co Antrim. To date, just one at-risk building, Sion Stables in the Co Tyrone village of Sion Mills, has been the subject of a department-led compulsory purchase. It is a restoration success, with the fully restored building transformed into a local heritage centre and cafe.