Northern Ireland

Deadline day for Necarne equestrian centre

Necarne Estate in Irvinestown
Image caption The Department of Agriculture holds a lease on Necarne Estate until 2023

The Department of Agriculture has spent almost £400,000 to maintain an equestrian centre in County Fermanagh that it stopped using four years ago.

The Necarne Estate in Irvinestown has been lying empty since equine courses were moved to Enniskillen.

In 2012, the department said Necarne had become surplus to its requirements.

But it had signed a 25-year lease for £500,000 that runs until 2023 without an early opt-out clause.

Image caption The council spent £4m developing world-class equestrian facilities at the site

The 230-acre estate is owned by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, which is making a second attempt to find a new tenant.

It was put up for lease or sale three years ago but, despite receiving expressions of interest, the council said it was withdrawn from the market as no-one met its needs.

300-seat arena

The Necarne Estate was originally bought by Fermanagh District Council in 1987 for about £300,000.

The council spent £4m developing world-class equestrian facilities including a 300-seat indoor arena, 80 stables, 16 bedrooms, two dressage arenas, and courses for cross-country, point-to-point and steeplechase.

Image caption The estate has been empty since equine courses moved to Enniskillen in 2012

The site also includes laboratories, where an elite racing horse breeding programme was set up. The breeding programme collapsed in 2001

The estate is now only used by local dog walkers, runners and cyclists.

Robert Gibson, director of Community, Health and Leisure at Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, said it has sought new expressions of interest to find a use for the estate.

"It doesn't have to be an equestrian use, the council's main wish is that the estate will continue to be an economic driver for Irvinestown and for the district," he said.

Image caption The site was originally bought by Fermanagh District Council for £300,000 in 1987

"It would be fantastic if it would provide employment, perhaps it could provide tourism, maybe education, perhaps an economic driver - it could be a company headquarters, there are lots and lots of opportunities.

"It is a very special place, it is close to Irvinestown, there's a fantastic opportunity here and we really we hope that people will take that opportunity and come forward with exciting ideas."      

He said the council sold two acres of the estate at the height of the property boom for £1.9m but the council is hoping to find someone to take over the whole of the estate.

Image caption The site includes a 300-seat indoor arena, 80 stables, 16 bedrooms and two dressage arenas

The council is responsible for the care of the listed castle and there are concerns that its condition is getting worse.

Gothic revival architecture

The castle was the home of the D'arcy-Irvine family for 150 years, up until the early 1900s.

It was originally built in the 17th Century and has a 19th Century facade described as "one of the finest examples of Gothic revival architecture in Ireland".

Mr Gibson said: "Unfortunately a use for the castle has not been found and it would take a very serious amount of money to put it back together.

Image caption There are concerns about the deterioration of the listed castle on Necarne Estate

"The council has recently had an engineer's survey undertaken of the castle, of its structure and what needs to be done on an ongoing basis to try and ensure that there isn't a further deterioration."

He said the council will be removing vegetation and carrying out minor works to try and prevent further deterioration.

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