Friday, 30 July 2010

The Maze buildings and de-listing

The announcement of proposals to develop the former Maze site has raised the issue of de-listing of the remaining buildings of the prison.  The powers of the Environment minister and the legislation under which it was listed has been mangled in the discussion.

The original decision was made by a direct rule minister under Article 42 of the Planning Order 1991.  This morning on the Nolan show, I heard Jim Allister say the grounds for this were on the basis of special architectural interest.  As a barrister he should know the law better. The law says it can list buildings that are of "special architectural or historical interest".  So while I'm no architect I would assume that it is hard to make an architectural case but a historical case can be (The brutal nature of that history is not a disqualification and why many prisons are listed buildings elsewhere). 

This takes you to the issue of what powers the present environment minister has to over-turn the decision of a predecessor.  The basis for over-turning it is by showing the original decision was incorrect:

" interested party (usually the owner) has demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Department that the building itself, or documentary sources in support of listing, were incorrectly assessed at the time of the original listing decision."

Sammy Wilson examined the option of de-listing:

"..."as a result of previous concerns expressed on this issue" he has asked the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to "carry out a further review of the listing and potential for delisting on this site."

However, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency's independent review of the direct rule decision said it was valid.  In these circumstances a ministerial decision contrary to that advice and potentially acting outside of their powers could be easily over-turned by a judicial review.  So the likely result of the de-listing advocates is a decision that would not stand as well as a legal bill for the taxpayer. Or if they were confident of their case they could have sought their own judicial review of the NIEA advice and the subsequent decision - which they did not do.

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