Closed in 1998 the Listed Courthouse remained in the ownership of the Northern Ireland Court Service until 2003 when it was sold to developer Dunloe Ewart for £1.00 as part of an allegedly eye wateringly expensive Public Private Partnership deal to build the new Laganside Courts. The building was added to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2003.
Subsequently in 2006 the Courthouse was sold on to property developer and former Chair of the Policing Board, Barry Gilligan, for a rumoured £35000. Following the first arson attacks in 2009, it finally became clear to government that despite promises from the private sector the Courthouse was now at serious risk and a report on possible uses was commissioned at public expense. The then responsible Minister Nelson McCausland stated in 2013:
“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.”
Sold on yet again in 2017 to Liverpool based Signature Living, for a rumoured £0.5m the Courthouse is now for sale yet again for an unspecified price after a number of Signature Living properties went into liquidation.
Aside from its architectural and social significance the Lanyon Courthouse was also one of the best maintained and secured buildings in the Public Estate when it was nominally ‘sold’ to the public sector. Considering its subsequent descent into ruinous condition through arson and neglect, makes clear that the Court Service was seriously remiss in selling this iconic building without any conditions or ongoing scrutiny that adequate maintenance, security, and crucially, insurance, must remain in place to protect the ongoing public interest and taxpayers’ previous investment.
On 7th August 2019 UAH raised concerns about the security of the building with its owners, Signature Living, and alerted the PSNI and both of the responsible authorities (Belfast City Council and the Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities). UAH also wrote to Belfast City Council to request an immediate Urgent Works Notice to be raised. Less than a week later no evident action had been taken by any of the four bodies, and the building suffered another series of fires. Over 8 months on, to date UAH has yet to receive a response from Belfast City Council to the Urgent Works request. While Belfast City Council continues to drag its heels, last night, 31st May, the building suffered the latest in a series of arson attacks.
All of this shameful neglect and inaction stems from a perceived ‘wisdom’ that selling or gifting Listed Public buildings to the private sector without conditions is a way of offloading from government both building and responsibility. This is a disastrously flawed attitude and ignores the fact that buildings are listed in the public interest and at public expense, together with the ongoing costs associated with statutory rules and protection mechanisms charged with protecting that public historic capital asset.
Politicians in Northern Ireland can, and do, focus on history when it suits their particular political advancement. However, when it comes to championing our most tangible historic assets they are often, not only apparently quite happy to be mesmerised by extravagant public relations claims on behalf of property developers, but actually content to see many formerly distinctive Ulster settlements and landscapes stripped of their historic assets in favour of generic property speculation.
The request to bring the Courthouse back into public ownership will be a measure of political commitment, if any exists, to our built, architectural and social historic asset base and its widely acknowledged place in contributing to the future prosperity of Northern Ireland.
Have Your Say! Sign & Share the petition: Repossess Crumlin Road Courthouse. Compulsory Purchase Now.** here.
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