Dismay as Belfast City Council drags heels over stately home on verge of ruin
Belfast City Council should make "alternative arrangements" if it cannot look after a stately home in its most famous park, a descendant of the philanthropist who gifted the estate to the public has said.
Andrew Dixon (58) said the family has watched on in horror as the derelict house in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in south Belfast has gradually decayed since it was handed over to the council by his great, great aunt in 1959.
Discussions took place at Belfast City Council several years ago on the future of Wilmont House during which it was suggested the Dixon family should be contacted to discuss its future - but City Hall has yet to get in touch.
In the meantime, windows have been broken and boarded up at the house, which dates back to 1859, and Mr Dixon fears it will go the same way as Cairndhu House in Larne, another property gifted by the Dixon family, which lies in ruins.
"I don't want to be disrespectful or antagonistic, but if, as I understand, the council intimated several years ago that they would like to approach the family to discuss the future of the property, then we're not too hard to find," he said.
"The house and estate was gifted to Belfast and if they can no longer look after it then we should talk.
"We have had no contact about Wilmont House and we would hate to see it fall into such a worse state of disrepair.
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"I believe when the lands and properties were gifted to Belfast there were understandings about how the property was to be used.
"If the council now feel they can no longer uphold those understandings, perhaps they need to press on with alternative arrangements.
"They have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that's more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has bee n handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way," he said.
"Sadly what we look at now bears little resemblance to what the house was in its heyday. It's boarded up, windows are broken, and it stands in a place of such beauty that it's disappointing to see all the history of the house, but I'm available to talk."
The estate covering more than 128 acres is home to Belfast's famous International Rose Garden. It was donated to the people of Belfast by Lady Dixon in 1959, in memory of her late businessman husband, Sir Thomas, a former Lord Lieutenant of Belfast.
Wilmont House dates back to 1859 and during the Second World War was the headquarters of the US army in Northern Ireland. One of its most celebrated visitors was Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, during his stay in Belfast in 1904.
It has also served as a nursing home, as a parks office for the council and the headquarters of the Belfast marathon.
In 2013, a proposal for the refurbishment of the property over a seven-year period was rejected.
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: "We're currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, a listed Grade B1 building in Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, to bring it into a new use.
"As part of this, we're pursuing efforts to get in touch and engage with the beneficiaries of the will of Lady Dixon."