Belfast Telegraph

Calls to improve building standards

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency must be more imaginative when dealing with the owners of dilapidated buildings, MLAs have said.

Calls for a rethink of the way the department deals with problem landlords were made during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee at Stormont.

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke claimed buildings must be brought up to standard but said the Government should not foot the bill.

The South Antrim representative warned against vesting buildings in need of urgent repair. "It is actually now a burden for us," he told the committee. "Instead of vesting an asset the department has actually taken on a liability."

It was also revealed that an announcement on the future of the derelict Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast could soon be made.

Fiona Hamill, treasury officer for accounts, said: "There have been detailed discussions with interested parties and they are hopeful of bringing forward significant recommendations to the minister (of environment) shortly. A lot of work has been done in the background."

The courthouse, designed by architect Charles Lanyon, has fallen into a poor state of disrepair since it closed in June 1998. It is understood to have been sold to an investor for £1 in 2003. However, plans to transform the building into a hotel and tourist attraction have been hampered by the global downturn in the economy.

In 2009 the courthouse was also badly damaged by a fire.

Mr Clarke added: "The Environment Agency could vest this and pay significantly more than £1 to bring it up to standard. This is a really good example of how this is not going to work. This is the cynic in me. The public purse has weighed into the challenge again."

The Public Accounts Committee also discussed cuts to the Government's spending watchdog. Comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly said the Audit Office budget had been reduced by £167,000 for next year, and he warned: "Any further reduction over and above what has already been agreed will have an adverse effect on the service we provide to the Assembly."


From Belfast Telegraph