Northern Ireland

'Eyesore' at former Strand hotel site being demolished

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Media captionThe land on the Strand Road is the former site of the Strand Hotel

Demolition is under way at an abandoned development in Portstewart, County Londonderry.

The site of the former Strand Hotel, on Strand Road, has been left unfinished for nearly a decade.

But Environment Minister Alex Attwood has found a directive within planning laws that gives developers a certain time to complete a building.

The site is owned by developer Norman Menary.

In the late 90s, his company NM Developments was granted permission to build an apartment block, but only the first level was erected.

However, several months ago the Planning Service served a completion order to the developer for that site - the first time this has ever happened in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Environment said: "The power to issue a completion order under Article 37 of the Planning Order arises where the department is of the opinion that the development will not be completed within a reasonable period."

It added: "The lack of development to date and the apparent intention of the current owner not to do any further work enable the department to form that opinion."

The environment minister described the site as a "blight overlooking Portstewart's majestic beach", adding that the "situation was intolerable".

Mr Attwood said: "Builders and demolition people have gone on the site over the last two days.

"It has been an infamous eyesore, so they have all but removed, and reduced to floor level or to foundation level, the ugly building that was there previously.

"I hope that now over the next days, first of all, that all the rubble will be removed and, secondly, that they landscape the site.

"So that after 10 or 14 years of an ugly site at one of our most beautiful places, we will at long last have at least a decent site, not spoiling one of our most beautiful places."

The developer appealed the Completion Notice and the case is due before the Planning Appeals Commission on 8 May.

However, Mr Attwood said that in recent weeks, his planners had been contacted - not by the developer - to move the situation on.

"I acknowledge that those who contacted my planners have now acted and the site is being cleared," he said.

Mr Attwood told the BBC that until all the work was finished at the site, he was not going to "withdraw" from any legal proceedings.

Demolition

The minister would not confirm or deny speculation that a bank was behind the demolition.

Until now, if a developer was granted planning permission they had to start the build within five years but once a "material start" had been made there was no time limit on its completion.

This meant developers could start a building and then come back to it several decades later, if they wanted.

Mr Attwood said he would be looking to see if other Completion Notices could be served on other "problem sites" but stressed it would not be at the cost of the taxpayer.

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