A DOWNPATRICK hotelier and conservationist has slammed suggestions to bulldoze derelict public buildings in the town that are currently listed, writes Anne O’Hare.
Noel Killen, owner of The Mill at Ballydugan has spent a lifetime specialising in the maintenance and restoration of local historical buildings and condemns claims made by Councillor Dermot Curran that the former 18thCentury Downe Hospital should be de-listed.
Mr Killen voiced his anger that more is not being done to safeguard Downpatrick’s built heritage. Speaking to Down News earlier this week he said: “I congratulate the Environment Agency for standing firm in their decision to protect the former hospital.
“However, it appears that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, were denied their appeal to have it de-listed . Are the arsonists and vandals in the town dictating the shape of their planning policies? This cannot be justified.
“While I understand the argument to develop the six acre site, it is a huge plot of land and surely it can accommodate investment plans of any description while still incorporating the old Victorian buildings into future plans.”
Mr Killen described the cultural loss to the town if the decision was to be over-ruled in the future. He added: “Downpatrick was one of the few major towns in the province to have a hospital of this size. In its day it attracted an enormous influx of workers and was responsible for attracting much investment to the area. It possesses a lot of history.
“More simple and relatively cheap measures could be used to safeguard the building until work could begin to restore it. Once it has gone the decision cannot be reversed and that would be a terrible shame. Shouldn’t we be doing more to protect our built heritage?”
Mr Killen added that former St John’s Residential Home that was recently gutted in an arson attack lies adjacent to the site of the old hospital and was just 45 years old and earmarked for demolition. Mr Killen concluded: “Over the last few years the South Eastern HSC Trust invested money to re-fit double glazed windows and new roofing. This is a terrible waste of public funds in light of its closure.
“I feel as though both departments of the Trust need to be challenged more in their decisions and we need more public accountability so that this type of needless expenditure is minimised. It would also be a failure on all our parts if enough wasn’t done to safeguard this historic building which was once the jewel of our town.“
Mr Killen is currently working on restoring a large building at The Mill at Ballydugan which was burned down in 1845 and has lain derelict since then. To date he has fully restored the main building, a lifetime task… and labour of love.
Responding to the claims, Down District Councillor Curran said: “While I take this gentleman’s point in that old Downe Hospital has great historic interest, the site itself needs to be cleared. After all, it is only part of the former hospital site that is of historic value.
“If it were to remain, the cost would be incurred by the developer. I will be asking, if we could hold on to it. But, it will not have the same historic value if the old hospital is left for a further five years.”
Future Plans for Site Clarified by Health Department
A DHSSPS spokesman clarified the position regarding the heritage status of the hospital buildings to Down News, and said: “The old Downe Hospital has been declared surplus to needs. It sits on a prominent, elevated site close to the Downpatrick town centre and is approximately 6.5 acres in size. The site comprises the former Downe Hospital and St John’s Elderly Persons Home. St John’s was vacated in June 2012 and following a recent fire, asbestos has been removed, whilst the Trust arranges total demolition of this building.
“The existing Downe Hospital Complex contains two listed buildings for which alternative use might be sought, following the relocation of the hospital to new premises within the Downshire campus.
“The Infirmary Building which fronts Pound Lane is a Grade B2 listed and it would be hoped that more recent building additions or annexes could be stripped back to reveal the original Victorian Hospital with its axial entrance reinstated, although it is noted that many of the architectural features have been lost over the years due to remodelling for accommodation of clinical facilities.
“The Fever Hospital is also a Grade B2 listed and due to its long use as the administrative hub of the hospital has retained some of its historic features.
“Following advice from Land and Property Services, a planning application for a mixed use development including offices, residential, guesthouse, restaurant and retail was submitted to Planning Service in May 2010. The Planning application was recommended for approval by Planning Service and Down District Council on 31May 2011. Draft planning conditions have recently been agreed between the NIEA and Planning Service and a Decision Notice is now awaited. BTW Shiels are acting as Estate Agents for this property on behalf of the South Eastern HSC Trust.”