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Government slammed over illegal demolitions in Northern Ireland

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The government is 'deliberately sacrificing' Northern Ireland's architectural heritage in order to entice more developers to the troubled province, conservation watchdogs have claimed.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) and SAVE Britain's Heritage have accused the Northern Ireland Office of 'actively turning a blind eye' to the illegal demolition of listed buildings.

Key cases of unauthorised demolitions last year include Belfast's B2-listed Malone Place, the B+-listed Tillie & Henderson shirt factory in Derry and unlisted houses in Dromore Conservation Area, County Down.

Previous high-profile cases include Rock Castle, Portstewart, a B1-listed building demolished without consent in July 2001.

The future of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter also remains in the balance.

The stance of the province's Department of the Environment (DoE) has incensed UAHS's Rita Harkin, who is convinced the government is sidestepping conservation in order to secure new housing development.

'It seems any investment is good investment. Ministers are acting on behalf of developers and ignoring the sensibilities of heritage. Less funding is going into conservation and having no assembly means it is difficult to lobby government, ' said Harkin.

More historic buildings within the province are being de-listed than listed, contrasting sharply with England, where the stock has quadrupled, revealed Harkin.

'Northern Ireland has 59 conservation areas but only two dedicated conservation officers to police the province, ' she added.

London-based SAVE Britain's Heritage has also entered the row, arguing that there is 'no will' within the province to impose the government's policy on preserving the built environment.

'Demolition of both the Tillie & Henderson shirt factory and Malone Place represents a major step backwards for conservation of the built environment, ' said SAVE Britain's Heritage secretary Adam Wilkinson.

'It shows that for all the talk by Angela Smith, Northern Ireland under-secretary of state for the DoE, there is not the will to stand up and enforce the government's own law and policy relating to the historic environment, ' he added.

However, a DoE spokesman disagreed: 'The DoE refutes any allegations that it favours new developments and allows demolition of listed buildings.

'Each proposal is considered on its individual merits, taking into account all relevant issues, including current policy provisions, the structural condition of the listed building, advice from conservation architects and legal advisers, ' he added.

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