Sunday 21 April 2019 07:20:15 AM

Trust Explains Its Role in Disposal of Vacant Premises
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THERE has been many changes in the face of the health service in Downpatrick in recent years and the older buildings have given way to modern facilities at the new Downe Hospital. The Pound Lane Clinic faced a number of arson attacks and was finally relocated in the new Downe Hospital leaving now a vacant site after its recent demolition. The St John’s Residential Home site opposite too is lying in ruins after a major fire and work is ongoing at the site because of an asbestos risk. The main Downe Hosiptal building has been shuttered up to keep out the vandals and thieves who had broken in and were stripping out valuable metal such as copper wire. Against this background of devastation in the heart of Downpatrick, a South Eastern THSC Trust official explained the Trust’s position regarding the management of vacant properties.

James Livingstone, Assistant Director of Patient Experience at the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, made a presentation to the Corporate Services Committee at Down District Council last week explaining the background. Given the extreme amount of vandalism in Downpatrick at the former Pound Lane Clinic and the St John’s residential Home, Councillors were keen to explore the Trust’s approach to handling the closure and disposal of properties.

Councillor Colin McGrath, Committee Chairman, said: “Generally, the Council feels that the Trust should be liaising more closely with us much earlier when a premises goes vacant so that we can deliver on the best use of the site for the future. When vandalism occurs as has done at the old Downe hospital and Pound lane and the St John’s Home site, it creates a very unattractive environment.”

The old Downe Hospital in Downpatrick with theformer St John's residential Home in the foreground which was destroyed in 2012 in an arson attack.

The old Downe Hospital in Downpatrick with the former St John’s residential Home in the foreground which was destroyed in 2012 in an arson attack.

Mr Livingstone said: “The process we use is the same as other public bodies across the North. Once a building is empty and no longer needed, we have to declare that it is no longer needed for it previous purposes. This then goes to a public sector trawl through a D1 notice. This could last  six months.

“Sites currently vacant in the Down District Council  area are the former Down Hospital site, the St John’s Residential Centre, the Pound Clinic and several fields adjacent to the new Downe Hospital.

“Sometimes if a housing association expresses an interest then we may include them in this process. If this then fails to materialise then we move to the public sale stage through the Land and Property Services. For example, there is an ongoing interest in Pound Lane so it is not out to public sale. Through the NIHE a housing association is currently looking at this site and discussions are ongoing.

“The demolition of a building such as the Downe Hospital is an option but as there are listed parts to it this is made more difficult. As the process of disposal continues, in the Downe Hospital case we put exterior fencing around the perimeter and blocked off the windows. To put a full 24/7 guard on the building would add to the cost considerably and this option was not taken up. If this cost were met it would impact of other possible front line services somewhere else. It is difficult to completely secure a premises the size of the old hospital and Pound Lane.

“There was some public sector interest in the old Downe Hospital site but this did not materialise into a firm purchase. The Trust then asked the LPS t appoint an agent to dispose of the property. An agent has been appointed and the process of sale has commenced. A project group has ben set up and is meeting monthly to oversee the sale.

“What many people don’t realise is that the income from the sale of a premises by the Trust goes straight back to the Department of Finance and Personnel. The Trust does not profit for the transaction.  I don’t think that the DFP would allow us to act as a  landlord and allow us to site on vacant property and control it.”

Councillor Cadogan Enright said: “We thought we were going onto a partnership with the South Eastern Trust but this explains now why we are not making any progress in developing the Downshire campus hub and the problem of bus access.  We really need to now tackle the Trust to get them fully on board.”

Councillor Willie Walker also noted that it would be helpful if the Health Minister met with corporate bodies such as the Council or the Trust and this was agreed by Councillor McGrath who added that proper joined up government should include a meeting for an hour twice a year to discuss key issues should be set up.

(The South Eastern Trust is required to follow guidance set out by the Land and Property Services which is an agency within the Department of Finance and Personnel.)