Taxpayers may have to pick up bill for courthouse sold for £1
A LANDMARK north Belfast building which was sold into private ownership for just one pound could once again be a burden on the taxpayer.
Consultants have been appointed to the Crumlin Road Courthouse to study redevelopment opportunities by the Department of Social Development in a bid to regenerate the area.
The report will identify potential uses for the building that are deliverable, sustainable and make a contribution to the regeneration of the area according to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
The building was originally sold from public ownership to Dunloe Ewart for £1 as part of a deal with Northern Ireland Court Service to build Laganside Courts. In 2006, developer Barry Gilligan and former chairman of the Policing Board bought the building for £35,000 and said he would turn it into a luxury hotel or office blocks.
At the time the plan was part of several developments supposed to represent the future of north Belfast in terms of economic and educational development.
However Mr Gilligan later said he could no longer complete plans for a hotel because of a lack of grant aid.
A series of arson attacks on the 19th Century building in 2009 led some members of the UUP to call for the building to be returned to public ownership.
The decision has now been taken to appoint Turley Associates to start work on a development report that is expected to last for four months.
Revealing the decision the Minister said: "Crumlin Road Courthouse is one of Belfast's well-known landmarks and consultants can now look at the building's development potential more closely.
"Although the building is in private ownership, its historical and architectural value means the area's people and the wider public hold a real interest in its future, especially when they have seen the gaol site across the road flourish in recent years.
"Over the next four months the consultants will engage a wide range of stakeholders to produce a report that identifies a model for development."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said that he welcomed the move.
"I have long argued that we should take Crumlin Road Courthouse back into public ownership," he said.
"I never understood the logic of selling it for a pound into private ownership and I regret the U-turn will come at a significant cost to the taxpayer, with tens of thousands of pounds now being earmarked to develop plans to do what should have been done in the first place.
"This area of Belfast suffers from some of the worst multiple deprivation in Northern Ireland and the redevelopment would be a significant boost for all the people of the community."