Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has issued a temporary Building Preservation Notice for a church that was facing demolition at the weekend.
Protesters gathered at Straid Congregational Church in the village near Ballyclare on Saturday morning as workers moved in to start tearing the building down.
Residents became aware of the plans to demolish the church, which was built in 1816, on Friday night. A spokesperson for the Friends of Straid Facebook page said: “Villagers, the church is being stripped of all its history as I write, ready for demolition tomorrow.
“Internal furniture pews etc are being removed. This is being done without any consultation or statutory approvals in place.”
It is understood the Historic Environment Division (HED) has been considering the building for listed status- a move some church members are opposed to.
A number of residents in the area believed the church would receive listed status in the coming weeks.
Following a stand-off throughout Saturday morning, which saw police in attendance and the road blocked for several hours, a council official issued the preservation notice.
A spokesperson for the local authority said: “Council officers attended the site of Straid Congregational Church at lunchtime on Saturday, January 6 and served a Building Preservation Notice on the building, which became effective at 1.10pm.
“A Building Preservation Notice is a form of temporary listing which provides protection to an unlisted building for a period up to six months following its service, in effect treating it as if it were a listed building.
“The Planning Act (NI) 2011 provides the council with the discretionary power to serve a Building Preservation Notice in relation to any building which is not currently listed, where it appears to the council that the building is of special architectural or historic interest and is in danger of demolition or of alteration in such a way as to affect its character as a building of such interest.”
The spokesperson added: “Straid Congregational Church is currently under consideration for listing by the Historic Environment Division (HED) of the Department for Communities.
“However, the council only became aware of the threat of demolition of the building early on Saturday morning and acted expeditiously to serve the Building Preservation Notice.”
Welcoming the decision, the Friends of Straid spokesperson said: “Delighted to advise everyone that a preservation order has been served on the church as of lunchtime today (Saturday) to ensure that due processes can be carried out. Thank you for your support and we will confirm if listed status is granted.”
The Newtownabbey Times understands a number of local political representatives, including South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan, South Antrim UUP MLA Steve Aiken and South Antrim Alliance MLA David Ford were at the church site on Saturday.