Northern Ireland

Bomb-proof Dungiven police station bought by Church

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe two-storey building boasts five bedrooms, a gym, a holding cell and an armoury

It may not have been the most attractive building on the market, but for those who bought the former police station in Dungiven, it was the answer to their prayers.

The Presbyterian Church based next door needed extra space for its car park, so when the bomb-proof property became available, they were first in with a bid.

If all goes according to plan, the building will be in use by this time next year.

More than half of all police stations in Northern Ireland have been sold off in the past decade.

Image caption The site was snapped up for £175,000

The majority have been bought by private developers - raising more than £24m for the public purse - some have been demolished to make way for housing and commercial developments.

But the bomb-proof Dungiven station, built in the 1990s, is still standing.

Holding cell 'good for quiet reflection'

Image caption The holding cell would make a 'good place for some quiet reflection', said Church committee member Ian Buchanan

The congregation paid £175,000 for the station, which they plan to use for Sunday school classes and Church events.

"We never thought we would some day own the local police station, but now we do and think it's great value for money," said Ian Buchanan, who is on the Church committee.

"It may not be the most attractive building but it has great potential inside and we plan to use every room, including the holding cell.

"It will be a good place for some quiet reflection."

The Church had initially planned to use the site for a car park, but the congregation changed their plans after seeing the interior.

Image caption The station will be used for Sunday school classes and church events, said Mr Buchanan

The two-storey building boasts five bedrooms, a gym, a holding cell and an armoury. It also has an office once used by military personnel.

The building was stripped down before being put up for sale.

Supt Muir Clark said he was pleased to see the building would be put to good use.

"A lot of the stations were heavily fortified and there needs to be a lot of work to make them useable for other purposes, so it is good to see the station in Dungiven used for public service," he said.

Stations 'not as important' in digital age

Dungiven police station is one of 74 former stations to be sold off in the past decade by the PSNI, which has reduced its number of police stations from 140 to just more than 60.

Image caption PSNI Supt Muir Clark said he was pleased to see the building put to good use

"As a police service we are now less than half the size we used to be, and therefore don't need the same estate," said Supt Clark.

He rejected claims that closing stations would leave some communities more vulnerable to crime.

"We can contact people in much different ways than we used to 20 or 30 years ago and still give that community confidence through social media and in other ways.

"So actually having a building in today's digital age is not as important as it used to be in the past."

Money for Stormont

Twenty two of the sites are still in the public sector, having been bought by councils, housing associations and community groups.

The remaining sites were sold on the open market to private developers and have been used for housing and commercial developments.

Image caption The asking price of the Ballynafeigh site is £900,000 - but the money raised from the sale of stations goes to Stormont rather than the PSNI

The former Ballynafeigh Police Station in Belfast is currently on the market with an asking price of £900,000.

But Supt Clark said the £24m so far raised from the sales does not end up in the PSNI's budget.

"The money goes back to Stormont, but the police can apply to use some of it for capital projects," he said.

You can see more on this story on BBC Newsline at 18:30 BST on Friday.