Lifeline for Belfast's crumbling Crumlin Road Courthouse
Big plans to transform Belfast gem
It's one of our architectural gems – yet it lies riddled with rot and exposed to the elements.
Now Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland has announced ambitious proposals to breathe new life into the Crumlin Road Courthouse.
While its twin across the road, Crumlin Road Gaol, has undergone a dramatic revival in recent years, the Grade B+ listed building lies weather-beaten and decrepid following a series of fires several years ago.
The minister said he hadn't ruled out vesting the privately-owned courthouse so that it can be transformed into an asset for local people.
He said it would be ludicrous to allow the 160-year-old building to fall further into dereliction while visitors flock to see its "beautifully restored" counterpart across the road.
"It's currently a blight on a main arterial route and a blight in north Belfast and the lower Shankill. It's important that it is turned into an opportunity for job creation," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr McCausland said that before the fire damage, the courthouse was classified as one of the grandest examples of its type in Northern Ireland because of its exceptional features, interiors and environmental qualities, and is of considerable interest on architectural and historical grounds.
"It is important that those who must share in the dividends arising from regeneration of the courthouse are able to have a say in how it is developed," he added.
Consultants Turley Associates have carried out a building condition study and put forward a range of options for the building.
Their preferred option would cost an estimated £12m and would see re-roofing and basic refurbishment of the ground and first floors for a combination of uses such as office space, performance space or cafe.
There would also be reconstruction of Courtroom 1, which could be leased to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to extend the gaol tour which can currently go no further than the tunnel under Crumlin Road. And the mothballing of the basement and rear wing, and using the grounds for car parking.
To proceed with this option it would be best that the courthouse be transferred into public ownership, Turley Associates design director Justine Daly said, adding that owner Barry Gilligan of Big Picture Developments has fully co-operated with the Stormont-led initiative.