Workhouse demolition is delayed

Workhouse demolition is delayed

4 September 2013

RETAINING Downpatrick’s former workhouse at Down Council’s old Strangford Road headquarters will reduce the value of the site to “virtually nothing,” it has been claimed.

The assertion by council Chief Executive, John Dumigan, came after it was confirmed the building is to be examined by officials from the Environment Agency to determine if it has any historical or architectural significance.

Down Council wants to demolish the remains of the workhouse as part of a major demolition programme at its former administrative base which it plans to sell.

But concerns have been expressed the demolition would remove an important historical building. The Environment Agency wants further research into the former workhouse before any action is taken.

Addressing councillors last week, Mr. Dumigan said the government agency plans to consult with the local authority and the community about the future of the building. But he warned that retaining the 171 year-old structure will reduce the value of the former council site to “virtually nothing.”

The Chief Executive said the building requires a new roof, suffers from damp and vermin problems and its internal layout is totally different from the original.

Mr. Dumigan added: “In my opinion, its historical interest is zero. We should ask the Down Museum to undertake a photographic survey of the building and make a video to provide a historical record of it.

“If this building is retained no one will be able to use it, with the value of the overall Strangford Road site significantly reduced, hampering the council’s plans to use the cash from its sale to do other things in the district.”

Councillor Colin McGrath said the future of the building could not be determined until after the Environment Agency assessment, suggesting there are concerns that many of the district’s old buildings which have links with the past are being torn down.

“We took a decision on the basis that there was no historical interest in this particular building, but the government agency thinks there may be and needs to determine if this is in fact the case.

“If we went ahead and demolished the building without doing our homework on it we would end up looking pretty silly. We need to allow the assessment to be carried out so we don’t break the law,” he added.

Councillor Terry Andrews said any decision to retain the former workhouse raises a number of questions, including who will be responsible for maintaining it and paying for its upkeep, while councillor Éamonn Mac Con Midhe said the building is located “bang in the middle of a prime development site.”

He added: “There are enough old buildings in Downpatrick. There are workhouses the length and breadth of the country and to keep these buildings is a disgrace in my opinion.”

Councillor Billy Walker said Down Council has already taken a corporate decision to bulldoze the former workhouse and should proceed as planned, while councillor Stephen Burns said the Environment Agency will have the final say on whether the building can be bulldozed or not.

Councillor Dermot Curran said the old workhouse does not hold good memories for many people, adding: “We need the assessment of the building carried out as soon as possible so we know what it’s future is.”