Row over Chinese Consulate's 'eyesore' ring of steel
A METAL wall erected at the Chinese Consulate along a main thoroughfare in the leafy suburbs of south Belfast has been branded an "eyesore".
Residents are furious after a hedgerow was uprooted and replaced with a 'ring of steel' around the consular building on Malone Road.
The construction work, across the street from Queen's University's Elms Village student accommodation, has been undertaken without planning permission.
It is understood there are concerns the consulate could seek to ignore planning rules by claiming diplomatic immunity.
Belfast City Council said it understands the wall is "temporary".
Council and roads officials have contacted the consulate for information to examine any planning requirements needed "to resolve the matter".
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had submitted plans in May last year to build an almost 10-feet-high boundary wall, but the application was later withdrawn.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 with a reinforced concrete base and topped with concrete coping, metal railings and razor wire.
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.
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said he has been contacted by many residents who are "furious" about the metal structure.
"The fence is an eyesore in a conservation area. The building is in a conservation area and the fence is certainly out of character with the area," he said.
"I understand the matter is being considered for enforcement action by Belfast City Council and the Department for Infrastructure."
SDLP councillor Gary McKeown said: "This is a beautiful part of Belfast and the area is rightly subject to strict conservation rules, so like residents I am very concerned that this work is taking place without planning approval.
"Any construction in the area should be in-keeping with the character of the neighbourhood and not forced upon the community.
"The planning system is in place for a reason, and any individual or organisation doing construction work should adhere to it."
The affluent Malone Road area is considered one of the most desirable property locations in Northern Ireland, with average house prices exceeding half a million pounds.
The Chinese Consulate is based at MacNeice House, a double-fronted Victorian merchant's villa dating from 1889.
It was once the residence of poet Louis MacNeice's father, who lived there as a bishop of the Church of Ireland.
When the building was vacated by the Arts Council in 2015, it was listed for sale at £3.5 million.
A Belfast City Council spokesman said: "The council understands that the fencing is temporary and is engaging with the consulate to obtain further information on the nature and reasoning for the works which will inform the council of any planning requirements that the consulate may need to meet in order to resolve the matter."
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said its consent must be sought "before any works can be done on roads or footpaths".
A spokesman said the department is "aware of the works affecting the footpath" and officials are "in discussions with representatives from the Chinese Consulate regarding the nature of this work and associated permission requirements".
The Chinese Consulate did not respond to requests for a comment.