Early Enforcement by NIEA Needed to Save Listed Buildings

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 05 September 2012

Reference: PAC 01/12/13

A new Report by the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has called on the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to make better use of its powers to protect listed buildings.  The Report entitled ‘Safeguarding Northern Ireland Listed Buildings’ was published today.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA, said:  “Locally, we have more than 8,500 listed buildings which need to be monitored and maintained.  The Committee report found that NIEA needs to act earlier and with greater use of enforcement powers to safeguard many listed buildings.  For instance, failure by the NIEA to act in the case of the Stable Block at Sion Mills resulted in the deterioration of the signature building to a point where part of it had actually collapsed before NIEA finally stepped in to rescue it.”

Ms Boyle added: “NIEA also needs a proper performance management system for the listed buildings grant scheme.  Despite spending almost £20 million awarding grants since 2005-06, NIEA cannot measure the overall impact of this expenditure.  The Committee expects to see grants targeted on the most vulnerable and valuable buildings, such as those on the Built Heritage at Risk Register.  They cannot be allowed to go from being ‘at risk’ to ‘beyond rescue’.

Ms Boyle continued: “The Committee welcomes the new protocol for improving the care of publicly owned listed buildings, but is aware of some listed buildings originally owned by public bodies that were in poor condition when they were sold.  NIEA must be prepared to take timely and effective enforcement measures in such cases of neglect, including carrying out repairs directly and recouping the cost from the owners or, if necessary, vesting the building in order to rescue it.

Ms Boyle concluded:

“There is a lot at stake here.  If NIEA does not get to grips with enforcement and take early action where needed, we risk losing a part of our history and part of our culture which simply cannot be replaced.”

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