Northern Ireland

Stormont steps in to sort Crumlin Road Courthouse

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Media captionJulian O'Neill has this exclusive report for BBC Newsline

Stormont is stepping in to sort out the future of one of Northern Ireland's best-known listed buildings.

Crumlin Road Courthouse in north Belfast has been lying derelict for 15 years and is in a state of serious disrepair.

It is owned by a private developer, but now Stormont is intervening with an action plan.

A series of fires several years ago left the 160-year-old building exposed to the elements.

However, an architect for the building's owner has said it is not beyond repair.

"There is still a structure capable of restoration," said Dawson Stelfox.

"The No 1 court which is probably the most historic part of the building has survived the fire the most. Although it looks terrible and it is terrible and it would be great to see work starting immediately. The reality is that we still have a structure here which is very important and which can be restored."

Public funds mean the jail which is opposite the court is enjoying a new lease of life. However, for 15 years the courthouse has failed to attract the money needed to transform it.

Stormont has now commissioned a report on the way forward. It will establish the building's condition and value. It will also select the preferred development option.

Taking back public ownership through vesting or buying the courthouse is a possibility. Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland believes it is time to act.

"I see it in terms of regeneration, economic development and employment opportunities," he said.

"It is also about the removal of a blight from that part of the city."

Owner Barry Gilligan has a new idea. His architect said it was to turn the building into a museum for records and drawings of local historic buildings.

However, there has been a muted reception in the neighbouring community.

Ian McLaughlin, Lower Shankill Community Association, said: "Bearing in mind that this building sits and is actually an interface between the Antrim Road, Cliftonville, the Oldpark and the Lower Shankill, I personally fail to imagine what would draw someone like myself, or someone from a deprived community, to access a building to discover architecture. I don't personally get that."

Even before the court came into private ownership, it had been neglected and the economic downturn has not helped. The study on its future is due to be completed by July.