Northern Ireland

Athletic Stores campaigners can challenge demolition decision

Athletic Stores
Image caption The landmark building was built in the 19th century

Heritage campaigners have been granted the right to legally challenge the decision to demolish the Athletic Stores building in Belfast.

While the existing building is not listed, it is in a conservation area.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood gave permission in April to knock down the 19th century building to be replaced by an apartment block and shops.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the decision.

Mr Attwood had said the building on Queen Street in the city centre had serious structural flaws, was leaning into the street and would be disproportionally expensive to retain.

In 2010, the heritage charity had succeeded in getting a previous authorisation for demolition quashed by the High Court.

Lawyers for the society argued that the latest decision was irrational and in breach of planning policy.

'Last resort'

Michael Lavery QC said the proposed development would inflict serious harm on the conservation area.

"It must be a matter of last resort before they grant permission to demolish a quasi-listed building and grant planning permission for a new development," he said.

The barrister said all other possible alternatives had not been fully explored, and suggested the building could be put on the market to test for any other buyers.

"The society has had an inquiry for one possible purchaser who has expressed an interest in the building, and not because it is advertised for sale," he said.

"The suggestion must be that if it had been properly advertised there may have been more interested."

Senior counsel for the department said because the building was not listed, "that clearly has consequences in terms of the weight to be attached to its demolition".

"This is a case where there was a very detailed consideration of all the planning issues," she said.

However, Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the society had established an arguable case, and granted leave to apply for a judicial review.

The case will proceed to a full hearing in December.

The judge said: "There is a degree of urgency in this. The interested party, the developer, would be keen to have a decision one way or the other."

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