Ulster Architectural Heritage (UAH) has observed that the worst damaged front elevations of Bank Buildings not only retain much of their stonework detailing but are visually square and perpendicular, with the main lateral horizontal steel beams straight and intact. These effectively make the building a box, as it was originally designed, and, as such, inherently stable. Accordingly, UAH believes that there is good reason to hope that the building can be saved.
However, the immediate and urgent issues are threefold:
Safety: Industry practice would be to erect an exterior shoring of scaffolding, very similar to the structure erected to support the exterior of the nearby Athletic Stores when all its interior walls and roof structure were removed. This also serves the UAH aim of preserving the shell for future restoration. Similar support structures can be, and have been, built in short order.
Restoring Pedestrian Access: While support shoring is being built, placing ‘hardened’ pedestrian walkways, again, common practice in the construction industry, would restore four way access to, and through, Castle Junction. Again, quick to construct, and although not attractive, as a very short term measure, they would open the thoroughfare and access to businesses until the shoring was complete and the roads opened, probably with an unavoidable width restriction.
Retail Footfall: This is essential to retain customer base for traders and it must be supposed, particularly for Primark. The optimum solution which presents would be to accelerate the commissioning of Primark’s £30m extension to the rear of the bank buildings and recommence Primark trading essentially on the same site.
While all this reflects common industry practice and may appear obvious, nothing will happen without a plan and its initiation by decision makers, presumably primarily Belfast City Council, Primark and the Department of Communities, Historic Environment Division.
UAH is encouraged by the news that experienced staff from Glasgow City Council were on site today to assist and advise on the managing of their much larger scale challenges following the twin fires at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School of Art. Glasgow City Council and the Academic Management of the School were quick to coordinate remedial actions and provide a daily progress report via a webpage.
Whilst differently focused, UAH fully shares the traders’ concerns. However, an overreaction on the part of Decision makers in response to kneejerk pleas for demolition, resulting in the irretrievable loss of the Bank Buildings and one of Belfast streets’ most striking long views, would amount to an act of officially sanctioned vandalism.
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