ON DONEGALL STREET IN BELFAST
Ever since I was about four years old I really liked visiting Belfast and I now still visit at once a year to spend a week photographing the built environment. One thing that I have noticed about Belfast is that there are many once attractive buildings in the city but many of them are unoccupied or could even be described as derelict and this is especially true in and around Donegall Street.
To make things worse, about six or seven months after I last visited the area there was a major fire which resulted in a report by an engineer indicating that repairs following a major fire in the Cathedral Quarter are likely to take years and that a cordon may need to remain around the listed Old Cathedral Building on Donegall Street, restricting access for several business owners, pedestrians and traffic.
Over the years, Ulster Architectural Heritage has repeatedly voiced concerns about the degradation of Belfast’s built heritage and here is an example of what they have to say:
“Once probably the most completely Victorian city in the British Isles, many of Belfast’s 19th century buildings have been demolished for road schemes, housing estates and commercial developments. Many of the remaining historic buildings within the city centre lie vacant, some even open to the elements, and with all sense of pride or purpose gone they have become a backdrop for anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Too often, it seems, developers acquire properties without thought for their possible restoration, often evicting long-standing family businesses and either blocking the buildings up or demolishing them outright while they seek planning permissions, in the process further eroding Belfast’s sense of place and character. The problem does not just lie with buildings that are completely vacant. Looking up above the ground floor on any street within the city centre, including core streets like Donegall Place, Royal Avenue, High Street and Castle Place, the majority of the upper storeys lie neglected and vacant, a trend which has been accelerated with the rise in online shopping. At the moment there are few incentives for developers to see their empty buildings brought into use. Buildings are acquired for their land value rather than because the new owners want to see them restored, or even perhaps like them. The buildings are often neglected because of an inability to see their potential for re-use.”