Belfast Telegraph

Armagh gaol developer exasperated over 10-year delay to hotel plan

By Rebecca Black

Almost a decade after plans were announced to convert Armagh Gaol into a hotel, the developer is still waiting for support from Stormont, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Trevor Osborne, of the Bath-based Trevor Osborne Property Group, told this newspaper that he was concerned about the impact the delay would have on the building, which dates back to 1780.

Mr Osborne, who has been developing plans to create a hotel, retail units, an open air performance area and a heritage centre in a £25m project, added that he could not start work until all the funding had been secured.

The businessman is putting £11m towards the scheme and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has offered up to £4m. Another £2m is potentially available from the Heritage Lottery fund, but this is dependent on Stormont offering the remainder of the £25m.

Armagh Gaol was originally three prisons - one for women, one for debtors and one for felons - and later became the scene of political turbulence.

In 1979, prison officer Agnes Wallace was shot dead by the INLA, while inside the jail, which closed in 1986, republican women staged dirty protests and hunger strikes.

In 2009, the Trevor Osborne Property Group, in partnership with Armagh Council and the Princes Regeneration Trust, signed a partnership agreement to make the jail into a hotel.

"Together with the Prince's Regeneration Trust we remain ready to proceed with this project, but it's first of all necessary to clarify what funding is going to be available from funding resources," Mr Osborne told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Time has gone by and we haven't been able to get confirmation from the various departments, so we have been waiting for them to be in a better shape to consider it further."

Mr Osborne explained that the delay was having a negative effect on the building. "There has been the dilapidation you would expect - roofs, walls and damp," he said.

"We are entirely held up. It is concerning because another winter is coming, and that is not very good for a vacant building."

This is Mr Osborne's first project in Northern Ireland, but his company has experience of converting Oxford Castle's jail.

A spokesperson from the Department for Communities said: "Armagh Gaol is owned by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council. Departmental officials previously sat on a steering group along with other stakeholders, chaired the by council, to explore options for the development of the site.

"Council would be best placed to provide an update on the position on plans for the site."

A spokeswoman for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said: "The council remains committed to this regeneration project and continues to work very closely with the Trevor Osborne Property Group to update the business case for the redevelopment of the historic Armagh Gaol into a landmark, boutique hotel.

"The Trevor Osborne Property Group, which has pledged £11m, providing that public sector grants can be obtained, continues to retain its solid, long-standing commitment.

"We look forward to being in a position over the coming months to provide more details on outline timescales, funding arrangements and the next steps in relation to this project."

Belfast Telegraph