Northern Ireland news

Consulate fencing 'temporary' but questions remain on unauthorised work by Chinese government body

Fencing around the Chinese Consulate on Belfast's Malone Road. Picture by Mal McCann
Paul Ainsworth

AN "eyesore" metal fence at the heart of a planning row between the Chinese Consulate and locals in south Belfast was erected "temporarily" by a Chinese government body it has been claimed.

The 'ring of steel' fencing appeared at the consulate's Malone Road site in April, replacing a hedgerow that surrounded the Victorian-built MacNeice House, which housed the Arts Council of NI before becoming the official home of the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Belfast.

No planning permission had been secured for the fencing, and The Irish News revealed that a previous planning application to construct a permanent 10-foot high boundary wall complete with razor wire was withdrawn last year.

The erection of the fencing in the Malone Road Conservation Area prompted calls from members of Belfast City Council to investigate why it was built.

The Attorney General John Larkin, meanwhile, has also warned that international laws offering diplomatic immunity for consulate staff do not apply to planning permission, and suggested the work could force legal action by the UK foreign office against the consulate.

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Following the construction of the fence, consulate staff sent a letter to residents - who are seeking legal advice on the matter - to insist that "the consulate general must ensure its security and this is the same for all other diplomatic offices here and elsewhere in the world".

Meanwhile, an official statement from the consulate said: "The works being carried out were both notified to the UK government and the authorities in NI, including the detailed specifications of the works."

Recent signs posted to the fencing has shed light on the workforce behind the structure, which in recent days has become a magnet for graffiti. The signs insist the fencing is a "temporary enclosure" and feature the name of China Zhenjiang International Economic and Technical Cooperation Co Ltd (CZIETCC).

Overseen by the ruling Community Party of China, CZIETCC has offered engineering and labour services to Chinese interest projects across the world.

A spokesperson on the body's website says it has: "Already dispatched over 50,000 people including managerial personnel, engineers, architects, accountants, doctors, chefs, seaman, designers, gardeners, teachers, culturing and planting specialists, technicians and other service people.

"Meanwhile, we provide labour export consultation and staff training, acting as an agent for foreign organisations, enterprises and clients."

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown said the work by CZIETCC "sends out the wrong signal".

"The public rightly expects projects like this to be scrutinised before they start, especially in a conservation area, yet work continues without any detail of what is planned being published," he said.

"While other residents of this neighbourhood need approval to paint a gable wall or replace a window frame, the work at the consulate is proceeding without any planning permission. This is very frustrating and worrying for members of the local community, and I share their concern.

"The nearby Polish Consulate has gone through the planning process for work that it did, so it shows that can be done."

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