Emergency meetings to save listed buildings

The announcement follows a spate of fires at listed buildings since 1 April 2011.

A blaze broke out at the Herdsman Mill in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone in the early hours of Saturday.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Grade B listed building but when they left the scene, it reignited.

The mill was constructed in 1835 and was the last wet-spinning flax mill in Ireland.

Alex Attwood said he is “deeply concerned” about the fires at listed buildings.

“I spotted a trend a short number of weeks ago, asked for information on all the buildings that have been damaged. Up to 11 buildings have been damaged in the last three months that’s a lot more than in previous years.

“It’s important to protect that which is so valuable to us.”

The Minister described Herdsman Mill as “a particular jewel in our built heritage” and has called for a meeting to be held within the next two weeks.

“The summit will look at what the government needs to do further in order to protect buildings like the mill because unfortunately over the last two or three months it’s been clear that there’s been increased numbers of attacks on heritage buildings,” said Mr Attwood.

“Natural built heritage is a big part of Northern Ireland’s economy going forward; it’s a big part of the appeal for tourism. It’s a big part of our history and the character of our communities.”

The Minister said attempts to protect listed buildings would be multi-agency.

“We will be working with police, fire brigade, local communities and owners in order to try reduce the risk and save the built heritage, which is a key part of economic strategy and tourism going forward.

“It’s hard to know whether these fires are merely anti-social activity or something more.”

The mill was opened during the potato famine, and the Herdman’s used their new enterprise to begin a social experiment providing housing, schooling, recreational facilities and churches for their workers, all in an integrated community of Protestants and Catholics.

By the end of the century, the village was called Sion Mills and then consisted of more than 200 mill workers’ houses and the owner’s house, Sion House.

Celia Ferguson is a trustee of the Sion Mills Building Preservation Trust, she told UTV for her it is a personal tragedy.

“I’m watching the most important industrial heritage building in Ireland burning down. It’s just tragic,” she said on Saturday.

“My great, great grand-father built the building with his two brothers. It was designed by William Lynn who was probably the most important architect in Ireland at one time.”

Dr Anthony McCann, who lectures in heritage studies at the University of Ulster, said:

“This is tragic. It comes at a time when the Sion Mills trust has had such success raising funds from ARC and the heritage lottery fund for restoration of the Sion Mills Stables.

“Now, more than ever we need to focus energies on full restoration of this important site.”

© UTV News