Northern Ireland news

Fire at a historic builders' yard in south Belfast was arson

Firefighters tackling the Ormeau Road blaze on Sunday evening. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A FIRE at a historic builders' yard in south Belfast, earmarked for a £5 million redevelopment, was arson.

The fire service yesterday confirmed that the blaze at the 19th century building on the lower Ormeau Road was "deliberate but the cause of the fire is still under investigation".

Clearance work for 47 new homes began at the site this month.

The planning approval issued to H&J Martin by Belfast City Council in January specified that the 1879 structure must be retained by the developer, but could be changed in use "to form two apartments".

There were four objectors to the proposal.

Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, which supports built heritage, said it was "concerned" to hear about the fire.

"We hope the building will be saved," a spokeswoman said, adding if that was "not possible, a `like for like' in scale, form, height, etc" should be built.

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: "The building at 163 Ormeau Road is not a listed building and is not located within a conservation area.

"It is however located within an area of townscape character and, as such, planning permission is required for any works to the building, including demolition of any part of the structure.

"So, if no.163 cannot be retained and converted, as per the original application above, a new planning application for this element of the permission would be required.

"However, permission for the remainder of the original scheme is still live at present.

"Any new application would have to come through council in the usual way (via Planning Committee and then for approval at full council meeting)."

The former building contractor's yard, historically referred to as the Ulster Building Works, is located between University Avenue and Rugby Avenue and had been home to H&J Martin Ltd since 1885.

H&J Martin was acquired by Lagan Construction Group in 2015.

One of Northern Ireland's oldest building firms, it did original work on Belfast City Hall the Grand Opera House and the Slieve Donard Hotel.

Lagan is a third-generation privately-owned, family-controlled business, originally established in 1962 by Peter Lagan.

The group of Lagan companies separated five years ago and Lagan Construction is now owned by Michael Lagan.

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