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Gas alert for potential buyers of Northern Ireland's only Cold War nuclear bunker

By Nevin Farrell

Published 12/07/2016

Underground bunker in Ballymena has its own conference room
Underground bunker in Ballymena has its own conference room
The upper floor is covered with earth

It was built to withstand a nuclear attack, but Northern Ireland's only Cold War bunker has been contaminated by a potentially deadly substance - gas.

The 46,383sq ft Co Antrim shelter was built as a secure place for the province to be governed from in the event of a Soviet missile strike.

The building at Woodside Road industrial estate in Ballymena is up for sale with a price tag of £575,000.

Mid & East Antrim Borough Council is considering buying the bunker, with one option being to turn it in to a Cold War museum.

Councillors have been offered a chance to go underground and view the facility, which operated from 1990.

They had until today to express an interest in viewing the shelter, but a council report advised that "due to the secure nature of the site and the need to decontaminate the facility from gas build-up, it may not be possible to facilitate more than one date for a visit".

A council spokesman made no further comment on the gas issue.

Martin Dixon, chairman of Subterranea Britannica, a society devoted to the study of underground facilities in the UK, said: "I'm aware of the Ballymena bunker - it is a comparative rarity as it was purpose-built towards the end of the Cold War.

"In terms of 'gas build-up', I can't think of a particular risk in a bunker such as Ballymena but it is always better to be safe rather than sorry and ensure air quality is tested.

"In operation, the bunker would have had an extensive air filtration and conditioning plant but I don't know if these are still serviceable."

Meanwhile, councillors were told consultants have examined how other decommissioned bunkers had been used.

The shelter was built to house 236 people and keep them safe for at least a month. It was requested by the Government during the latter stages of the post-WWII stand-off against the Warsaw Pact.

It contains dormitories, kitchen facilities and decontamination chambers, and is owned by Stormont's Executive Office.

The property agent Lambert Smith Hampton states on its website the bunker "is believed to be one of the last and most technically advanced bunkers built in the UK".

It adds: "The lower floor is completely underground and the upper floor is mounded over with c. 1 metre of earth.

"The building has three points of access, all via interlocking double blast doors."

Internal accommodation includes a BBC audio visual broadcasting facility.

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