Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Building on Tradition: The Agenda for Sustainable Design (Part 1 of 2)

Report by Gary Potter.

On Monday 27th June 2011 PLACE, The Irish Planning Institute and Ballymoney Borough Council held a joint event entitled "Building on Tradition: The Agenda for Sustainable Design". The event was held at the former Ballymoney Courthouse which was designed by Charles Lanyon and completed in 1838. After lying vacant the Ballymoney Reformed Presbyterian Congregation refurbished the building to provide a meeting place for the town. Providing for up to 90 people in the main hall the venue was perfectly suited for the sold out event.

Liz Johnston and Ronan O'Donnell at yesterday's half-day conference. Image via placeni on Flickr.

Mayor of Ballymoney, Cllr Ian Stevenson began the proceedings on Monday with a short introduction outlining the Council's commitment to the built environment, followed by Liz Johnston of Ballymoney Council who discussed the Council's work to bring Townscape Heritage Initiative funding to Ballymoney.

Download the Council's presentation (PDF, 475kb): right-click and save here.

Today, we focus on Townscape Heritage Officer Ronan O’Donnell's experience as part of the Walled City Partnership's Townscape Heritage Initiative in Derry~Londonderry. The second part will highlight the main features of Building on Tradition - Sustainable Design Guide for the Northern Ireland Countryside which acts as supplementary guidance to PPS21, as outlined by Paul McTernan (SLR Consulting) on Monday.

Part I: Building on Tradition: Townscape Heritage Initiative
Townscape Heritage Officer Ronan O’Donnell introduced the Walled City Partnership and explained how the Townscape Heritage Initiative is benefiting Derry~Londonderry.

Ronan O'Donnell discusses Derry's Townscape Heritage Initiative. Via placeni on Flickr.

Download Ronan's talk (PDF, 1.1mb): right-click and save here.

The Townscape Heritage Initiative is a grant aid programme aimed at repairing and regenerating the historic environment in towns throughout the UK. There are 226 active or completed schemes, administered by the Heritage Lottery Fund, throughout the UK totalling £197m. In Northern Ireland there are 22 active or completed schemes representing a commitment of £16.5m. 

Northern Counties Hotel after restoration as part of Phase I of the THI.
Credit: Walled City Partnership
In Northern Ireland, unlike other areas of the UK, Councils do not manage the schemes directly as they have no heritage remit. To manage the Derry scheme the Walled City Partnership was established in 2002. The board of the Walled City Partnership is made up of the Foyle Civic Trust, Derry City Council and the City Centre Initiative. The Walled City Partnership also has a selection of advisors from the North West Development Office, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and DoE Planning Service. The Partnership manages the main pool of funds and identifies buildings suitable for smaller grants which they then award to property owners who wish to get involved.

The Partnership’s objectives seek to preserve and enhance the architectural and historic character of Derry’s city centre, promote the sustainable and viable use of buildings and encourage economic regeneration within the Conservation Area. The Partnership successfully completed Phase I in March 2010 and received permission to proceed with Phase II soon after in November 2010.

Restored building. Credit: Walled City Partnership

Ronan believes that the initiative provides a diverse range of benefits including architectural, economic and social incentives. Conserving the townscape instills a sense of civic pride and sense of place; it is cost effective, attracts tourists and is aesthetically pleasing for residents, workers and visitors.
To ensure that all work undertaken respects the historic character and integrity of the building and the area and to ensure authenticity, the initiative thoroughly researches maps, newspapers, photographs and many other resources. In Phase I from 2003 to 2010 this led to the successful delivery of 15 schemes. Initially 30 buildings were identified but some owners could not be convinced of the merits of such a scheme according to Ronan. He further explained that the Partnership do not seek owners at the first instance, but instead focus on the buildings. They identify an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list of properties and then set about lobbying the building owners to get involved. 

14 Shipquay Street before and after the THI.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

Ronan explained that eligible works include building repairs, architectural reinstatement, returning vacant floor space to use and infilling gap sites. Ronan further outlined the type of uses that buildings will typically provide on completion. Most properties provide ground floor retail space with residential accomadation above. At the end of Phase I 95% of the residential spaces was taken and of 1,400sq m of office space around 80% was taken. Ronan explained that retail, as with other UK regions is beginning to slow down and although the occupancy levels are down on what they were he is very pleased overall with how the scheme has turned out after Phase I and is optimistic for Phase II.

Properties in RED are those completed in Phase I of the THI.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

In Phase I the key stakeholders provided a total investment of just over £4.5m. The breakdown of stakeholder contribution is as follows:
  • Heritage Lottery Fund: £1m
  • Department for Social Development: £830,000
  • Planning Service: £220,000
  • Northern Ireland Housing Executive: £90,000
  • Owner Contribution: £2.15m
  • Derry City Council: Project core costs

These are some of the projects undertaken as part of Phase I:
2 Castle Street before and after the THI Phase I.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

4 Shipquay Street before and after the THI Phase I.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

The flagship of the THI Phase I as Ronan describes it.
The Northern Counties Hotel.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

Phase II will see a larger award from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £1.669m to help fund the 34 ‘A’ list buildings identified by the Walled City Partnership. Phase II will build on the success of Phase I claims Ronan who highlighted that the Partnership will give priority to applications which through their proximity to other properties create clusters and groups of restored buildings which improves the overall impact of the investment.
YELLOW: Phase I Completed. BLUE: Phase II Proposed.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

Ronan outlined the main difficulties that the Partnership faces when managing the scheme as a lack of understanding of traditional structures and skills, compliance with regulations, energy efficiency and general attitudes. Many building owners attempt to block up their premises, which fails to appreciate that older structures work differently to modern super insulated buildings. He also spends a lot of time lobbying owners that see restoration as more expensive to rebuilding, due to restoration being subject to VAT and new build materials being VAT free. A member of the audience from the Heritage Lottery Fund commented during the Q&A session that there has been some positives from the economic downturn as owners seek to consolidate their existing assets in the weaker market and now view their property as a longer term investment.
12 - 15 Magazine Street.
Credit: Walled City Partnership.

The Partnership will employ an education officer as part of Phase II to inform and encourage buy - in for the scheme from owners. Ronan believes that as the work to date is promoted and the scheme succeeds, the confidence will follow. Along with everyone else, we look forward to seeing the results of Phase II in the coming years....

More information:


Ballymoney Borough Council
- Welcome from the Mayor and Introduction to Ballymoney's Townscape Heritage Initiative
- [PDF, 475kb]

Ronan O'Donnell
- Townscape Heritage Initiative: Experience from the Walled City Partnership
- [PDF, 1.1mb]


John FitzGerald said...

Excellent blog and web presence by PLACE....keep up the good work!

Conor McCafferty said...

Thanks for the support John! Please feel free to add to the conversation whenever you like.

Best wishes,