Northern Ireland news

Residents 'in the dark' over metal wall at Belfast's Chinese Consulate

Martin McBurney at the metal wall surrounding the Chinese Consulate in south Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

RESIDENTS beside Belfast's Chinese Consulate say they are being "left in the dark" in the row over a metal boundary wall erected without planning permission.

Neighbouring households are "getting very little information from the council" and are now taking legal advice, one resident said.

A planning enforcement investigation has been launched by Belfast City Council over the "eyesore" metal wall around the consular building on Malone Road.

Signs have been placed on it describing it as a "temporary enclosure".

There are concerns the consulate may seek to ignore planning rules by claiming diplomatic immunity.

The consulate had submitted plans in May last year to build an almost 10-feet-high boundary wall, but the application was later withdrawn.

It showed plans for a block wall topped with concrete coping, metal railings and razor wire.

The recent works, which replaced a hedgerow, have been raised by the council with the British foreign office, The Irish News yesterday revealed.

The Malone Road area is a planning conservation zone in which development must meet stricter rules to be in-keeping with its existing architectural character.

Martin McBurney, who lives beside the consulate, described his frustration when he saw the metal boundary being erected some weeks ago.

"I was annoyed about it, that it was going ahead and nobody was challenging it," he said.

He said he understands the temporary metal structure is to be replaced with a permanent wall, but is concerned that residents do not know what style of wall is being built.

"Nobody knows what they're building," the 58-year-old businessman said.

"We're asking them to put something in that complies with the conservation area. I think you can meet their security needs and the needs of the conservation area at the same time."

Mr McBurney said he met with the Consul General last week to raise his concerns, but was told they were constructing a wall in accordance with what authorities in China wanted.

He hit out at council officials, saying that residents are "absolutely in the dark" during an enforcement probe.

He said residents are taking legal advice and have sent a solicitor's letter to the council.

The consulate said it notified both the British government and authorities in Northern Ireland including "detailed specifications of the works".

The Chinese Consulate is based at MacNeice House, a listed building which dates from 1889.

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