Belfast Telegraph

Golf courses, farms and castles among assets Northern Ireland councils own

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's councils are sitting on a wealth of assets, including golf courses, a castle and even a former coal yard.

A new report reveals how a diverse range of land and property is under council ownership.

It includes 10 golf courses, seven farms, five theatres and four eateries.

Other more bizarre assets are a former church, a cinema, an amusement arcade and a gas works. The diverse portfolio emerged after an investigation by the TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group. It examined the assets owned by councils across the UK.

The Northern Ireland portfolio includes:

Bagenals Castle, a 16th century fortified house and adjoining 19th century warehouse owned by the former Newry and Mourne District Council

A former coal yard, now part of the Albert Basin site in Newry, owned by the same authority, as is a facility on the site of the old municipal gasworks which was transferred to the council

Kiltonga Hall, a one-time church owned by the former Ards District Council

A cinema owned by the former Antrim Borough Council

And an amusement arcade owned by the former Moyle District Council.

The report examined property held at April 2014 - before the new supercouncils came into existence in Northern Ireland. Across the UK, councils own 580 restaurants or cafes, 378 pubs and 407 golf courses. Some 2,586 farms, 259 theatres, 191 shopping centres and 7,294 shops are also listed on their books.

TaxPayers' Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said many councils hiked council tax and rates bills despite vast portfolios.

"Local authorities should be focused on essential services," he said.

"The time has come for a serious discussion on what councils should, and should not, be doing.

"A drastic rethink which saw many of these assets returned to the private sector, where some of them clearly belong, would be a dramatic step towards a balanced budget and protecting taxpayers."

Derek McCallan, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, the umbrella body for councils, defended the expenditure.

He said: "Councils throughout Northern Ireland are vigilant, innovative and prudent and have a strong audited track record of using facilities and resources wisely."

Belfast Telegraph


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