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Ballymena nuclear shelter could become new tourist spot

By Laura Abernethy

Published 25/02/2016

One of the command rooms
One of the command rooms
The nuclear bunker in Ballymena
The decontamination room
Old unopened canned food

A nuclear bunker buried underground in Ballymena could be transformed into a tourist spot.

Mid and East Antrim Council has expressed an interest in viewing the 46,000 sq ft structure with a view to transforming it into a must-see attraction.

The underground shelter, which was built to house Northern Ireland's VIPs in the event of a nuclear attack, went on the market for £575,000 earlier this month.

It was commissioned in 1980 and was shrouded in secrecy for many years.

But with the Cold War a thing of the past, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) hope to sell the facility, which was designed to hold 235 people, including politicians and police, and a BBC studio.

In a written answer to a question tabled by TUV councillor Timothy Gaston, the council said: "Council has expressed an interest in viewing the property through (estate agent) Lambert Smith Hampton.

"It is anticipated that a viewing day will be held within the next two (to) three weeks, and we hope to clarify this shortly.

"Council have also been in contact with OFMDFM to declare an interest in the property.

"We have specifically asked our tourism consultants to consider the appropriateness and potential of the nuclear bunker to the Mid and East Antrim Tourism proposition."

Mr Gaston added: "The council have to take every opportunity possible and look at every opportunity that is available to them.

"We need to do feasibility studies and find out some more facts and figures. We need to see if it is a viable tourist attraction.

"We also need to see if there is any funding out there if we were to get it (the bunker).

"Tourism is something that is uncapped in Mid and East Antrim, and we need to be looking at trying to get as much return from our tourism potential.

"We have Carrickfergus Castle and we have Slemish, and we need to see if this would fit in with that."

Mr Gaston also told how the looming sale of the unique building had got people talking about the bunker online.

"I've posted about it on Facebook and it's sparked quite a bit of interest," he said.

"There is interest in the community, but we need to see if that would transfer into a solid business. That's what the feasibility study is for."

The bunker is similar to 35 other military and civil defence fortifications built around the UK between 1955 and 1965, when the world was gripped by fears over the possible nuclear fallout from war between America and Russia.

Mr Gaston said he believed schoolchildren would love to visit.

"There is a lot of history to it and I believe with the Cold War background, it will be a really good education centre," he added.

"There are a lot of local schools in the area, and I believe you could get a great catchment of educational trips coming from all around the country to it."

In other parts of the UK, nuclear bunkers have been turned into very successful tourist attractions.

Scotland's main bunker, located below a rural farmhouse in Fife, draws more than 30,000 visitors every year.

Similarly, the Kelvedon Hatch bunker, in Essex, has attracted thousands of tourists since it was converted in 1992.

Elsewhere, another shelter in Chislehurst, Kent was converted into a palatial home and went on the market last year for £3m.

Belfast Telegraph

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