Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council needs to let me tear it down, says owner of notorious Kincora building

Leslie Black, owner of the former Kincora boys’ home
Leslie Black, owner of the former Kincora boys’ home
Walking up stairs towards the former bedrooms
Inside one of the bedrooms
The view from one of the first-floor windows
The front door
Writing found under wallpaper on the ground floor

By Gillian Halliday

The owner of an east Belfast property which was once the notorious Kincora boys' home has criticised Belfast City Council for refusing to back an application to demolish the building.

Leslie Black submitted his proposal to have the building, renamed Linden House in 1996, razed last September.

As part of the application, permission is being sought to build 12 apartments in its place.

Planners have recommended his proposals be refused by the council's planning committee, which will discuss the matter tonight.

Mr Black, managing partner of Market Solutions (NI), told the Belfast Telegraph that given its history, the building on the Upper Newtownards Road should be demolished.

He had planned back in 2015 to refurbish the property, but claimed this was compromised by comments by the then First Minister Peter Robinson (inset, below), who called for the building to be razed.

The home was set up in 1958 to provide full-time accommodation for boys aged between 15 and 18, but closed in 1980 following the exposure of sexual abuse by staff and others over a number of years.

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It was also examined as part of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in 2017. However, its chairman, the late Sir Anthony Hart, said that while there had been evidence of systematic failings at the home, it was not a "homosexual brothel" used by the security forces.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph revealed there is an "official clampdown" on documents relating to Kincora, with at least 19 files held in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland "closed to public scrutiny".

And one classified file on the former home will remain locked in official archives until 2085, with others closed, either fully or partially, until at least the mid 2060s.

The kitchen where some of the abuse took place
The kitchen where some of the abuse took place

Mr Black said that he has been "left in limbo" over the future of the building, which was put up for sale last year with a price tag of offers over £375,000.

He said during a previous meeting with planning officials he had been informed that the site's notoriety was not a viable reason for it to be razed, a decision which he said had left him "flabbergasted".

Pointing out that groups such as Savia (Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse) have staged protests calling for it be destroyed, he said public support is there for his application.

"Belfast City Council planners said we would have to retain the building because of its historical architectural significance," revealed Mr Black.

A planning report acknowledges Mr Black's reason for demolition, conceding it is a "relevant material consideration" that may be "taken into the assessment of the application".

It also stresses that it "primarily deals with land-use planning considerations" and in this case the "impact of the proposed development on the character and appearance of the area... is considered to take precedence" in relation to planning regulations.

The bottom of the main staircase
The bottom of the main staircase

"For this reason, demolition is considered unacceptable," the report adds. Planners also consider the existing building makes a "positive contribution to the character of the draft Area of Townscape Character (ATC)".

Under ATC regulations, either draft or designated, planners have control over applications for buildings, including those which are unlisted, according to the NI Planning Portal website.

However, Mr Black said that he had been informed that as his building is in a draft ATC, it does not prevent planners from approving his application. He also claimed that ever since Mr Robinson's comments four years ago, security at the property has also become a considerable concern.

"Every time the alarm goes off I have to drive from Hillsborough, worrying that someone has burnt it," he added.

Mr Black stressed he wants to work with the council in order to find a resolution to the issue, adding he will be presenting his case for demolition to the committee this evening. He explained: "The fact is Kincora has not gone away... I've been in limbo since 2015. We're paying ongoing rates, we're paying water and sewerage, we're paying security, we're paying electricity, etc, etc, etc. There have been definite ongoing costs.

"We put together a document to try and bring common sense into this. I think demolition is just common sense."

Planners have also raised issues with his proposals to replace the building, but Mr Black stressed he is "open to discussion" with officials to resolve the matter.

In response, a spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: "Officer recommendations will be considered by members in full at Planning Committee (this) evening and due process followed."

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