Redevelopment plans for courthouse
An historic Belfast courthouse that has become a derelict eyesore could be set for a multi-million pound redevelopment.
The 160-year-old Crumlin Road Court building is now a sorry shadow of its former self, having been reduced to a shell after it was almost totally destroyed in a fire four years ago.
But consultants tasked to examine its future have proposed a significant £12 million restoration project as the preferred way forward.
The plan is a medium-term one to reconstruct and refurbish most of the Grade B+ listed building, including the court rooms.
The revamped sections would then be used as an extension of the popular tour of the restored Crumlin Road Gaol visitor attraction, which is linked to the court by an underground tunnel, while still leaving the option of other more ambitious development proposals open.
Consultants Turley Associates, who were commissioned by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland to examine the building's potential, said longer term redevelopment could include a hotel, office space and exhibition centre.
But they have identified the partial redevelopment as a preferred first step to secure the building's future.
The courthouse is currently owned by Belfast property developer Barry Gilligan. He had plans to turn it into a hotel but was unable to secure the required finance for the project. The redevelopment envisaged by the consultants would likely require the building to be bought back into public ownership.
A range of government departments would be involved in any future move to buy and restore the courthouse.
Mr McCausland asked people to give their view on the future use of the building as he attended a consultation event in the Crumlin Road Gaol.
"The Crumlin Road Courthouse is a Grade B+ listed building," he said.
"Before fire damage it was classified as one of the grandest examples of its type in Northern Ireland because of its exceptional features, interiors and environmental qualities and it is of considerable interest on both architectural and historic grounds.
"Although the Courthouse is in private ownership, its historic and architectural value means that the people of the area and indeed the wider public hold a real interest in its future.
"It is important that those, who must share in the social, economic and environmental dividends arising from the regeneration of the Courthouse are able to have a say in how it is developed and the consultation event today provides an opportunity to do that."
The minister added: "There are a range of potential options being put forward today which include everything from tidying up the site and doing some basic reconstruction work in the courtrooms, to a complete transformation further down the line to a venue that could drive tourism with a hotel, restaurants, educational or performance space.
"This venue could be a huge asset and I along with other ministers am keen to see what can be achieved."