Building on the past: Is government doing enough to protect historic sites?

Almost 500 historic buildings across NI are deemed to be at risk, according to figures obtained by Detail Data

This comes as our research into the protection of important sites also revealed that the Department of Environment’s (DoE) funding for restoration projects has fallen from over £4.4million in 2014/15 to zero for the current financial year – although £500,000 was made available through the government’s plastic bag levy fund.

Also, more than 650 buildings that were previously listed have lost their protected status, while it has emerged that the government’s rolling survey of historic buildings has been radically scaled back as a result of cuts. The Department’s role in enforcement also comes under scrutiny today, with just 60 Urgent Works Letters issued in respect of buildings that have fallen into a state of disrepair in the past five years.

Conservation groups, responding to the findings, criticised the government’s performance and argued that for every pound invested in historic buildings, a return of nearly £8 can be identified. They have called on voluntary and community groups such as buildings preservations trusts to challenge government and their local councils to prioritise investment in suitable restoration schemes.

The DoE cited the impact of cuts and the loss of staff through the civil service voluntary exit scheme, but it defended its efforts to make funding available: “Given the very significant cuts made to the Department’s budget for 2015/16, we have not been able to allocate budget to the listed building grant scheme in the current financial year. The Minister has however allocated £500,000 of carrier bag levy funding to six community led conservation projects.”

Detail Data also revealed that the Built Heritage at Risk Register, which contains details of 496 vulnerable structures, has been unavailable to view on the DoE website for nearly a year.

Three voluntary and community organisations contributed to this story. The Chief Executive of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS), Nikki McVeigh states that the register plays a crucial role in finding a new future for at risk buildings.
“It is incredibly important as these are the most vulnerable buildings that we have on the listed buildings database.”

Hearth Housing also contributed to the story. This housing association prioritises the reuse of historic buildings. It played a key role in the restoration of 19th century terraces at McMaster Street in east Belfast, as well as in dozens of other projects.

Director Marcus Patton said the perception that historic buildings are the preserve of the wealthy is misplaced “Social housing is for whoever is on the housing list. So our 100 houses in the housing association, they are social housing. We aren’t building houses for rich people and the housing association has been a mechanism which has allowed us to provide historic buildings as social housing.”

Impact

As reported the Built Heritage at Risk register, which contains details of 496 vulnerable structures, has been unavailable to view on the DoE website for nearly a year. In the process of this story the Department confirmed it will be updated and published online within a month. (Update: the register is now available online at http://appsc.doeni.gov.uk/barni/)

Data

Figures were provided by the DoE following a Freedom of Information request, showed that its Listed Buildings Grants have directed £33,115,448 towards 1,245 projects since 2005. This data also revealed that delisting has occurred in all 11 of the new council districts. The remainder (27) were contained in DoE media releases which were published after the release of the FOI data.

To read the full article by the Detail's Cormac Campbell, click here.

To view the data on the Detail Data Portal, click here.

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