Northern Ireland news

Wall row Belfast Chinese Consulate withdraws from talks

Images taken by residents of work continuing at the Chinese Consulate in south Belfast
Brendan Hughes

BELFAST'S Chinese Consulate has withdrawn from diplomatic talks aimed at resolving a dispute over an unauthorised wall built without planning permission.

Legal action by council officials was adjourned this month after a judge was told correspondence from the consulate confirmed construction had been paused.

A High Court injunction was sought by city planners to restrain any further work on the boundary structure after a stop notice was ignored.

But residents say work has since resumed at the leafy Malone Road site in the south of the city.

In a letter to householders, a solicitor for the consulate said it "does not accept the jurisdiction of the courts".

The solicitor said the consulate has been in discussion with Belfast City Council and the British foreign office.

He maintained that the consulate is protected by diplomatic immunity, but it agreed to temporarily stop work to enable talks if the council withdrew its High Court application.

"The council applied to the High Court for an injunction. Our client does not accept the jurisdiction of the courts and will not participate in the proceedings," he said.

The claim in the High Court is "highly disrespectful to our client" and the council has continued with the legal action.

"We therefore informed the council that our client will no longer offer to temporarily stop work or progress with any further talks, whilst its claim is proceeding," he said.

He added: "Our client maintains diplomatic immunity and the consulate is inviolable."

A further court hearing is expected later this week.

Residents have for months voiced their anger after the consulate uprooted a hedgerow and erected an "eyesore" metal fence while constructing a more permanent wall.

Martin McBurney, who lives beside the consulate, said: "These guys are working away this morning with reinforced concrete foundations.

"They have moved the hoarding out onto the footpath. Any view into the building, they're trying to block."

He added: "It's obviously very clear – it's their way or no way. They talk about respect and harmony and working together with people, and just do the opposite."

Mr McBurney also hit out at the council's response to the planning dispute, saying it has been difficult to get information from officials.

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.

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.

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown said: "Everyone in this city is expected to adhere to planning rules, and this is especially true in conservation areas.

"I urge the Chinese Consulate to rethink its cavalier attitude to this issue and show respect for the concerns of their neighbours.

"I also expect the British government to stop dragging its heels and hold the consulate to its obligations under the law."

Read More: The 'ring of steel'

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