Council could charge for Belfast City Hall tours
Belfast City council has held discussions about charging for City Hall tours, it can be revealed.
A newly installed donation box in the foyer, asking for financial help towards showing the public around the building, has started tongues wagging.
And a council source has revealed to the Belfast Telegraph that a tariff for the popular one-hour tours has already been discussed in an unofficial basis.
At present the public can participate for free, although commercial operators charge a fee of up to £100 for organising visits to one of Belfast's best known buildings.
But by the end of this year, or the beginning of next, anyone wishing to tour the city centre landmark at Donegall Square may have to pay between £2 and £5.
"There is a lot of talk behind closed doors about charging people to tour City Hall," an insider said.
"In the past councillors have resisted the idea, but after learning that visitors who come via cruise ships or coach tours already pay a fee of up to £15 as part of a package, that stance may change.
"It's certainly a specific topic that will be up for discussion before the committee soon.
"A donation box has recently been installed in the entrance to the building to test the water and see what kind of appetite there is among the public towards the idea of paying."
A new £1.25m exhibition area - which will detail the history of Belfast - is currently under construction in the building.
Upon completion, it is expected to increase the length of the hour-long City Hall tour by an additional 15 or 20 minutes. Although no figure has been finalised, it is understood a nominal fee of between £2 and £5 has been mooted as a way of recouping costs.
Councillors are understood to have an open mind as to whether to impose a fee for tours of Belfast City Hall, which will be 110 years old this August.
A spokesman for the council said commercial operators began charging at the start of this year.
"The council agreed last year to introduce a charge for City Hall tours booked by commercial operators on the basis that these operators charge their customers for organising a tour of City Hall," he said. "There are two charge bands: groups of up to 25 people are charged £50 and groups of between 26 and 50 people are charged £100."
Free tours, with an experienced guide, currently take place from Monday to Friday at 11am, 2pm and 3pm, and on Saturday and Sunday at noon, 2pm and 3pm.