Northern Ireland

Ballykinler: 200 houses may be knocked down by MoD

Ballykinler sign
Image caption 200 houses at a County Down Army base could be knocked down

The Ministry of Defence says it is considering knocking down 200 houses at the Ballykinler Army base in County Down.

Locals say some houses were recently refurbished and should be offered for sale to the public.

Since the resident battalion pulled out of the camp two years ago, 199 houses inside the perimeter are lying empty.

Parts of the Army's complex at Ballykinler are in regular use by the police and Army for training.

Image caption A lookout at Ballykinler barracks where the houses have been refurbished

The adjoining Abercorn Barracks part of the base, which includes the three and four bedroom houses, is no longer in use.

As a result the Army says it is looking at a number of options, which includes knocking them down.

An MoD spokesman said: "With the reduction in military footprint we are not using the barracks as a base and Defence Infrastructure Organisation will be looking at a range of options.

"Demolition has not actually started and remains one of a number of options being examined. "

Asked what the other options are for the empty houses, the spokesman said: "If and when any decisions are made regarding Abercorn Barracks I will let you know."

Image caption The MoD say there are a number of options for the houses that are being considered

Local people say some of the houses were refurbished in 2008.

According to an MoD website: "Ballykinler offers modern housing (2007) with en-suite bathrooms and attached garages. Three and four bedroom houses are available. "

Local man David McMullan said he fears the houses will go. "They should be sold on the open market as happened elsewhere in Northern Ireland," he said.

Image caption Local man David McMullan believes the houses should be sold to the public

"A lot of the houses are in very good condition. The officers' houses are quite big and have good sized gardens.

"It would be a terrible waste of taxpayers money if they were tossed."

Queued for a week

At Ballykelly in County Londonderry the Army sold off 317 houses six years ago.

When they went on sale, people - many of them first-time buyers - queued up for a week beforehand to buy one.

Ballykelly resident Malcolm Johnston, who bought one of the houses, said the move from MoD to private housing estate was very successful.

"The houses were sold quite cheaply so it gave people a chance to get on the housing ladder. It's nice and quiet here. It's a nice place to live," he said.

South Down MP and former Housing Minister Margaret Ritchie is angry about the prospect of 200 houses being lost.

She said: "I'd be deeply disturbed if these houses were knocked down. First-time buyers should be given the chance to buy these if the Army doesn't want them."

Image caption Margaret Ritchie thinks destroying the houses would be a waste

TUV Newry and Mourne councillor Henry Reilly was stationed in the base while serving with the Royal Irish Regiment.

He said selling off the houses may not be a straightforward option because of their proximity to the training complex and firing range which is still in use.

He believes the best solution is for the Army to use the place itself by putting a battalion back in the barracks.

"The MoD is spending £46bn annually in their budget and Northern Ireland seems to be getting stripped of assets and everything moved down to the home counties in England and that's unfair," he said.

Image caption Henry Reilly used to be stationed at Ballykinler

"The facilities in there are second to none. There is a gymnasium and a swimming pool there and the houses are first class.

"I think there should be another resident battalion in here. If that is not possible, why not use it for rest and relaxation for troops", he said.

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