Northern Ireland news

Belfast's Chinese Consulate erects wooden hoarding as wall row rumbles on

The wooden hoarding erected around part of the Chinese Consulate on Malone Road in south Belfast
Brendan Hughes

A WOODEN hoarding has been erected around part of south Belfast's Chinese Consulate as work continues on a controversial wall without planning permission.

The consulate has caused uproar in the leafy Malone Road area for erecting an "eyesore" metal boundary fence while carrying out building work on a more permanent wall.

Belfast City Council has not yet issued enforcement action, warning the consulate would claim diplomatic immunity.

But the Attorney General's office has said such international laws do not exempt consulates from local planning rules.

Residents have called for the council to go further in its actions.

Martin McBurney, who lives beside the consulate, said the wooden hoarding was erected along Malone Road at the weekend.

"It's obviously just to stop us from seeing what's happening. I don't think anybody is impressed with it," the 58-year-old businessman said.

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

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

A planning probe is continuing and the council has raised the dispute with the British foreign office.

In a letter some weeks ago, the Attorney General's office said the foreign office could take action against the consulate "in respect of its status" if it failed to comply with local planning laws.

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown, who has urged the council to issue a 'stop notice' on the construction work, said the foreign office should also intervene.

He said the issue "isn't just one of planning" but "goes to the heart of diplomatic relations".

"Other consulates in Belfast, including the nearby Polish Consulate, have sought and secured planning permission for work at their premises in the past, so there is a clear precedent for diplomatic missions adhering to the local planning process," he said.

Yesterday The Irish News revealed how the consulate last year put pressure on Belfast City Council to remove an image of Tiananmen Square from a public art exhibition.

It complained when the image of the 1989 military crackdown on protests in Beijing was displayed outside Belfast City Hall. The photograph was not removed.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International condemned the consulate's "censorship" attempt.

Read More: The 'ring of steel'

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