A major new project has been launched to protect Derry's historic buildings.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is conducting a survey of local buildings to see which should be afforded listing status.

Once a building has been listed, it receives a range of protection measures.

The NIEA survey is the first of its kind carried out in Derry since the 1970s.

Details of the project were outlined during a meeting on Tuesday of Derry City Council's Development Committee.

Speaking at the meeting, Manus Deery, of NIEA's Historic Buildings Unit, described as a 'quality review' of Derry's buildings.

He claimed that several hundred buildings could be put forward for listed status as part of the project.

Mr Deery said the survey would look at the current state of listed buildings in the city, and explore more about the history of buildings which they believe would be worthy of being listed.

Once all the relevant information had been collected, he said, a decision would be made on whether or not to list a building.

He said six wards in the local council area - Banagher, Culmore, Shantallow, Altnagelvin, Victoria and Thornhill - had already been surveyed.

Mr Deery said that buildings within the remaining wards would be surveyed before the end of the year.

He estimated that up to 250 local buildings could be put forward for listing as part of the project.

He said Derry City Council would be consulted on any buildings brought forward.

He highlighted that NIEA had spent £3m in Derry in the past year helping with refurbishments projects on several buildings in Derry, including the Guildhall, St Columb's Cathedral and First Derry Presbyterian Church (pictured above).

Mr Deery also said that 'urgent works' notices had been given to the owners of two listed buildings in Derry in recent years, ordering them to carry out vital repairs to the buildings.

He said this showed NIEA's commitment to the built heritage of the city, and also highlighted the city's three conservation areas at Clarendon Street, Magee and within the Walled City.

"Our historic buildings are a key but irreplacable asset. Once gone they are gone forever so it is important we do what we can to protect them," said Mr Derry.

However, he also revealed details of a plan to ensure that buildings in Derry which may not be historically important, but which are of importance to local communities, can be protected.

Following the Review of Public Administration, which will see the number of councils in Northern Ireland cut from 26 to 11 next year, a new 'Community Listing' initiative will come into place.

Mr Deery said this would allow communities to propose buildings which they believe should have a form of protection placed upon them.

The new buildings survey currently being carried out was warmly welcomed by local councillors at this week's meeting.

Sinn Fein councillor Barney O'Hagan highlighted the example of the former Tillie and Henderson factory in Derry, which was knocked down in 2005 after being badly damaged in a fire, as a historic building which did not receive adequate protection.

Colr O'Hagan said he believed there was a 'wealth' of buildings in Derry which would meet the criteria to receive listed status.

SDLP councillor John Boyle said a 'quite significant' amount of work had been done protecting Derry's built heritage, but stressed that it was 'obvious' that a lot more needed to be done.

Colr. Boyle highlighted, in particular, a number of houses in Clarendon Street which looked like a 'wrecking ball could be taken to them in the near future'.

"This survey is so badly needed," he said.

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