Letter to the Editor

I enclose two photographs, the first is St Joseph’s primary school, Newry in recent times. The second photograph is St Joseph’s Primary School this morning.

Spilt milk cannot be cried over, but I am concerned why all the checks and balances that are supposed to  exist did not work with this building in terms of preventing its demolition and ensuring Its preservation did not happen.. This building is a fine example of 1930’s schools architecture. It has architectural merit and had historical context in Newry. It was also pleasant to look at and certainly was capable for reuse. I have sent photos to two people involved in property in the UK to see if my thoughts were out of sync with wider society and they all said in their areas, councils would have made sure a building like this would be retained and refurbished, most also said that buildings of this age and design are in high demand as they have higher ceilings, are quirky, have better light than many modern buildings and can be refurbished in a cost effective way.

St Joseph's PS today. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
St Joseph's PS today. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

My questions are :-

(1)    Why did the council / planners not feel that this building was worth saving?

(2)    Why was the new planning department not aware this was on the cards and intervene.

(3)    Building control would have been well aware of this proposed demolition as they have been working on it for a year, why didn’t they communicate with other council departments to suggest intervention?

(4)    Why did conservation not feel it was worth saving?

(5)    Were the councillors made aware that this building was to be demolished and do they agree with its demolition?

It did not even cross my mind that this building would be demolished as I only do common sense and I had always assumed that it would be incorporated into the new school or sold off. I admit I did not go and look at the drawings or models, but being custodians of Newry that is what I expect my councillors and council to do.

St Joseph's PS last month. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
St Joseph's PS last month. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Newry as a city every year looks worse due to poor historically planning decisions and lack of strategy. When one considers in the past the city had real urban architectural beauty like Bristol and the Royal Docks in London, most of these buildings have now been demolished. Last year it was Bessbrook Mill, this year it is St josephs, I wonder what next year will be?

My observations are the that many people are focused on the issues that don’t really matter to the wider public and failing to intervene in issues that do matter and make a real difference to our town. How did Corry Square end up the way it now has for example? Why have planning permissions ben granted in Corry Square for future development which are poor architecturally for example?

The Space where the school used to be. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The space where the school used to be. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

A post-mortem review now needs to happen to stop this happening again and decide what sort of city we want in the future. I realise it is earlier days with the New Council and I accept this decision predates the formation of the new council and was originally made by planning in Craigavon, but it seems to me that decisions such as this are out of touch with the general public mood and intervention is needed now to review what is proposed for Newry over next five years and we take stock of the architectural heritage we are about to lose and if required, intervene.

The demolition of St Joseph’s  will go down in time as being a poor decision. It was one of the few buildings artists would go down to and paint pictures of, for me that tells me all I need to know about the regard this building was held in.

Name submitted.