PPS 6: Planning, Archaeology and The Built Heritage
Listed Buildings: Policy BH 7
Justification and Amplification
6.6 The key to the survival and upkeep of listed buildings is to keep them in active use. While the most appropriate use of an historic building will often be that for which it was designed, the Department accepts that new compatible uses should be found for historic buildings where they can no longer reasonably be expected to serve their original use and where the integrity of their built fabric is under threat. In an effort to increase public awareness of historic buildings in need of restoration, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society in association with the Environment and Heritage Service has published “Buildings at Risk ”, a series of catalogues of historic and other important buildings in Northern Ireland which appear to be threatened. It is likely that the survival of such buildings will only be achieved through sympathetic schemes for their appropriate re-use. In most cases this will mean a use which is economically viable and may necessitate some degree of adaptation to the building.
6.7 The range and acceptability of possible uses is therefore one of the most important considerations for all those involved in considering the future of a listed building. There should be an assessment of the building and how best to plan a new use which respects the features and characteristics of that building. To find a use first and then seek to adapt the building to accommodate it is likely to result in difficulties and expense as well as an unnecessary loss of historically and architecturally important material. Any assessment therefore requires balancing the economic viability of possible uses against the effect of any changes they entail in the special architectural or historic interest of the building in question. The impact of the proposed new use to the established character of the building and the surrounding area should also be assessed. In principle the aim should be to identify the best viable use that is compatible with the fabric, setting and character of the building and it should be noted that this may not necessarily be the most profitable use.
6.8 The conversion of a listed building to a new use will therefore normally only be acceptable to the Department, where it safeguards the future interest of the building and any alterations proposed meet the criteria set out in Policy BH 8. While the Department will also consider the potential impact of the proposed use on its other land use policies it is acknowledged that a flexible approach may be necessary on occasion to secure a building’s survival. Where a particular compatible use is preferred, but restoration for that use is unlikely to prove economically viable, the availability of grant assistance should be investigated to redress the financial loss.
6.9 If a building is so sensitive that it cannot sustain any alterations to keep it in viable economic use, its future may nevertheless be secured by charitable or community ownership. The building could be preserved for its own sake for local people and visitors, where possible with non-destructive community uses such as meeting rooms. The National Trust and local building preservation trusts have rescued many buildings in this way. The voluntary sector is well placed to help in heritage matters and much can be achieved by tapping into local support, resources and loyalty. Buildings preserved in this manner can make an important contribution to community life, local education and the local economy.