Concern over Crumlin Road courthouse hotel plan delay
Belfast City Council has expressed concern at the lack of progress on plans to save the city's historic Crumlin Road courthouse and turn it into a luxury hotel.
The 19th century listed building is in a serious state of disrepair after years of neglect since it stopped functioning as a court in 1998.
Last year the council gave planning permission for a £10m 77-bedroom hotel to the Liverpool-based Signature Living Group, who have run into problems with plans to open the George Best Hotel in the centre of Belfast.
They said their target was to have the Crumlin Road hotel opened by this summer - but work hasn't even started yet.
A spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph it was still "very much in their strategy for Belfast".
Last month a blaze, which firefighters said was started deliberately, caused even more damage to the courthouse.
It was just the latest in a series of arson attacks at the courthouse, which suffered its most serious fire damage in 2009.
Security at the court, which was the setting for most of Northern Ireland's major terrorist trials during the Troubles, had been virtually non-existent.
But since the latest fire the front gates have been padlocked and the front entrance, which had been easily accessible, has been blocked off with hardboard and barbed wire.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: "Planning permission and listed building consent were granted in December 2018 for the conversion of the Crumlin Road Courthouse into a hotel.
"As owners of the building, Signature Living is responsible for its maintenance and security.
"The council has contacted Signature Living to raise concerns about the vulnerability of the building and the security of the site.
"We have also sought and continue to seek a multi-agency meeting with the owners to discuss the condition of this listed building."
Shankill DUP councillor Brian Kingston said he and his party colleagues were "deeply concerned" by the continuing deterioration of the courthouse.
"We have maintained regular contact with the new owners Signature Living," he added.
"Following our lobbying, we welcome that Signature Living has now taken steps to better secure the building to prevent incursions."
Mr Kingston said his party and the local community supported plans to restore the building and to bring it back into use as a hotel.
But he added: "We are concerned that the continuing delay regarding planning approval for the completion of works at the proposed George Best Hotel at the former Scottish Mutual Building, also by Signature Living, appears to be having a knock-on effect on the courthouse plans."
A spokesman for Signature Living said their priority was to open the George Best Hotel.
He added: "Planning and licences procedures are ongoing, with an opening planned in the near future. The 'Crum' remains very much part of the Signature Living strategy for Belfast. Once the George Best Hotel is open further updates will be available on the Crum and other projects."