Protecting Malone

By Staff Reporter

The launch of the Malone Conservation Area Design Guide in the Lisburn Road Library on Friday will hopefully mark another important milestone in the journey towards full protection of the valuable and unique status of the Malone area.

Past experience has told us that government reports, policies, studies or think-tanks do not often translate into action on the ground and there is ample evidence that Department of Environment theory around the need for a robust Malone Conservation area has not always been reflected in planning decisions.

On a wider canvas, we have to look no further than the planners approval to demolish Swanston’s former Linen Warehouse (AKA Athletic Stores) in Queen Street to realise that what government says and what government does are two different things.

Similarly, the Department of Environment’s laissez faire attitude to proposals by Queen’s University to bulldoze some of the finest buildings in the Malone Conservation Area to make way for student accommodation goes some way to explaining the sceptical attitude of South Belfast residents’ groups to the latest design guide.

That said, the Design Guide should be welcomed as another step forward in recognising the unique and precious treasure which Belfast has in the Malone area.

Great cities preserve the best of their built heritage not a mausoleum frozen in time but as a vibrant, dynamic element of their being.

Indeed, a city which respects its heritage is one which will find it easier to attract the talent, investment and tourism on which tomorrow’s Belfast will base its prosperity.

But no policy can thrive without ever-alert watchdogs and in that respect, the coalition of South Belfast residents associations, under the tutelage of Paddy McCrossan, is playing a key role in giving effect to the dry sentiments contained in the many Malone Conservation area government publications.

Similarly, the Belfast Buildings Preservation Society and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society have done much to restore pride in a Belfast where the wrecking ball is all too often the most-favoured tool of developers and planners alike.

We will know we are really succeeding however, when Department design guides give way to effective strategies to promote the Malone Conservation Area as a vital part of Belfast’s heritage to visitors and locals alike.

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