Bid to save Belfast's crumbling Crumlin Road Courthouse
A Stormont department is working to smooth the path of redevelopment for one of Northern Ireland's most recognisable buildings.
Crumlin Road Courthouse is one of the most iconic landmarks of the Troubles, but since it was closed in 1998 after 150 years of use the building has suffered major damage, including arson attacks.
Planning permission was previously granted in 2004 to convert it into offices, and then in 2007 to a 161-bedroom hotel.
But neither of these proposals came to fruition, and in March 2009, a malicious fire caused extensive internal damage before two more fires later that year caused more damage to the roof. Three years ago consultants Turley Associates carried out a building condition study and put forward a range of options for the building.
Their preferred option, costing an estimated £12m, envisaged a re-roofing and basic refurbishment of the ground and first floors for a combination of uses such as office space, performance space or cafe.
There would also be reconstruction of Courtroom 1, which has the potential to link up to the Crumlin Road Gaol tour. It currently stops at the tunnel under the Crumlin Road, leading to the courthouse.
The courthouse is believed to remain in the ownership of a private developer.
But Turley Associates recommended it be transferred into public ownership.
The firm added in its study that the owner had fully co-operated with the Stormont-led initiative. Now Communities Minister Paul Givan has expressed his public backing to bring the building back into use.
He has instructed officials to examine any barriers in place blocking the redevelopment of the building, and how these can be removed.
"I am supportive of any credible proposal to rescue and bring back into use this important listed building at risk," he said in response to an Assembly Question (AQ). "I have therefore asked my officials to ascertain the barriers that arise to doing so, and how to remove them."
DUP MLA William Humphrey, who asked the AQ, said he is concerned about the effect of another winter on the building.
"I am concerned about the building deteriorating any further and would be keen to see something done with it," he said.
"Given the state of the courthouse compared to how the prison has been updated, it looks very unsightly. It's a landmark building for north Belfast and I want to see it preserved, restored and put to good use."
A DfC spokesman said: "The Department and its predecessors have for some years been exploring the options for Crumlin Road Courthouse, an important building at significant risk.
"The building is in private ownership but has been allowed to fall into a very poor state.
"The bringing together of heritage and regeneration functions in the Department for Communities has added fresh impetus to the work to find a viable, sustainable use for the site. The Department believes that there are prospects of doing so, and that this could bring significant economic and community benefits to the area and to the city.
"The Department therefore is exploring matters such as the legal options to require the building to be repaired; and the current value of the site."