Michael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)
Drive to rejuvenate Belfast WW2 pillboxes to increase World War Two tourism
The DUP wants pillboxes across Belfast to be rejuvenated in a drive towards increasing World War Two tourism across the city.
Pillboxes, a type of concrete camouflaged dug-in post used for defence and trench fire, were put up across Northern Ireland in the second world war at strategic points.
At Belfast City Council’s meeting of its City Growth and Regeneration Committee, councillors agreed a motion by DUP Alderman George Dorrian for a report looking at restoring the historic buildings for cultural purposes. Sinn Féin said it supported the principle but could not back the council spending any money on it.
The motion states: “This Council supports the development of culture and tourism and in doing so will support the concept of regenerating the network of WW2-era pillboxes and other structures across Belfast and beyond."
It adds it will “engage with other local councils and relevant government departments to develop an action plan to promote their regeneration, in partnership with the local communities where they are sited.”
Alderman George Dorrian told the chamber: “We have a very extensive network of pillboxes across the city, and not only pillboxes but also of built heritage from the war era. In the city centre and amongst many of the communities as well.”
He said: “The Northern Ireland War Memorial is very keen to develop things like walking tours, and I would be very keen to see us integrate this built heritage into those plans.
“There is a pillbox in East Belfast within the grounds of Glentoran Football Club. There was an attempt in recent years to regenerate that. To look at that as a tourism model in itself, it has been very successful, in terms of the stadium tours, where it has become the most attractive element. It has literally brought people from all around the world.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Ronan McLaughlin said: “As an avid history nerd, I know what the pillboxes were, while some might think they are something from a pharmacy.
“We have no issues with the motion as it is written, and will wait for the report to come back, but considering our financial position, we wouldn’t support any capital for their restoration. But certainly if we can be a body in the middle pushing the organisations, helping with any funding applications, and offering administrative support.”
SDLP Councillor Brian Heading: “If someone wants to mark out a World War 2 trail fair enough, but if you are going to ask to take over pillboxes, surely there is a risk people are going to say “Well the council is taking it over” and then it becomes the council’s headache.” He said: “There must be someone in central government who has responsibility for them.”
Alderman Dorrian said the Stormont Department for Communities had completed a “physical audit” of pillbox structures. He said the department was “across the physical structures” and it would be for the council to work on the neighbourhood tourism aspect, and “not take over maintenance.”
The report is expected to return to the City Growth and Regeneration Committee next month.