Northern Ireland news

Belfast council issues 'stop notice' on Chinese Consulate wall

A tree preservation order has also been issued in relation to trees beside the Chinese Consulate in south Belfast
Brendan Hughes

PLANNING officials have issued a 'stop notice' on south Belfast's Chinese Consulate for ongoing construction work on a wall without permission.

A listed building enforcement notice was also served yesterday morning on the consulate on Malone Road.

It follows a tree preservation order being issued by Belfast City Council earlier this week.

For weeks residents have complained about the consulate erecting an "eyesore" metal boundary fence while carrying out building work on a more permanent wall.

The council faced growing pressure to issue enforcement action, but officials feared this could be rendered "pointless" by the consulate claiming diplomatic immunity.

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

Residents have raised concerns about ongoing extensive construction work, with images showing damage caused to a pillar along the boundary.

The diplomatic row has been raised with the British foreign office.

A senior council planning official outlined the enforcement action taken in a letter seen by The Irish News.

"The temporary stop notice requires immediate cessation of all works within the site in relation to the erection of an unauthorised boundary wall," she said.

"The stop notice is temporary in nature as it lasts for a period of 28 days, in which time it is anticipated a planning application will be received.

"This time period can be extended by the service of a (full) stop notice if required.

"The listed building notice required cessation of further works to and reinstatement of the listed pillars and walls at the Malone Road entrance to the Consulate.

"The onus now lies with the landowner to ensure works on the site cease in line with the notices while negotiations with the Consulate and senior council staff continue to resolve all outstanding issues."

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown welcomed the enforcement action.

"Construction work at this site has been taking place for some time, with blatant disregard for planning and conservation rules. I am particularly concerned at apparent damage that has been done to the historic fabric of this listed building," he said.

"However, it is essential that these enforcement steps actually have an impact – a stop notice must mean exactly that. If this means drawing in the support of the UK government to give it effect, then this needs to happen.

"Planning regulations are in place for a reason, and no-one should think they are exempt from following them."

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said: "Residents are rightly furious that for so long this work continued without challenge.

"Damage to our built heritage is unacceptable and the unwillingness of the Chinese authorities to address their neighbours' concerns does nothing to build friendship.

"It is now time for the Chinese consul to come forward with an acceptable proposal and undo the damage to relationships their behaviour has caused."

The consulate did not reply to requests for a comment last night.

Based at MacNeice House, the consulate is 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.

The consulate has previously defended the works, saying it hopes to build a wall that both meets its security needs and respects the character of the surrounding neighbourhood.

Last week, The Irish News revealed how the consulate last year put pressure on the 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.

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