Putting the cart before the horse

On Stormont Live today there was a quick mention of some property speculation by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission. David Gordon noted the details in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph. The 13 acre site, including the disused listed property Ormiston House, was purchased by the Commission in September 2001 for £9million, there has been an additional £1.35million spent and, according to the anonymous NI Assembly spokeswoman and the Land and Property Services agency, the value in today’s deflated property market is an estimated £6million based on its “potential development”.

From the Belfast Telegraph report

The acquisition was recommended by a detailed 2001 economic appraisal on the best way to provide extra office accommodation.

However, the suspension of devolution between 2002 and 2007 put the plans into abeyance.

A review exercise at Stormont in 2007 then reached the conclusion that Ormiston should be disposed of, as it was unsuitable to meet accommodation requirements.

At that point, a much higher sale price would have been expected given property market conditions.

A draft report on Ormiston House’s future use, dated 2008, has also been released under freedom of information.

It recommended exploring the option of obtaining planning approval for development on the site, prior to any sale.

The report said this could take the form of residential development involving a maximum of 80 dwellings — including the construction of up to 63 new apartments and four detached homes within the estate. Alternative possibilities cited in the document included hotel or office use.

But the draft report also warned: “There will undoubtedly be tension between the benefits of restoration and the impact which any new development will have upon the character and setting of the listed buildings.”

A gate lodge and a stable block on the site also have listed protection.

Discussions with planners have taken place and more formal consultation is planned, ahead of a possible planning application being submitted by the Assembly.

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  • cynic

    It’s absolutely useless as an office and always was going to be useless. Isn’t that why the RUC abandoned it? A derelict listed building!

    Well, at least the money they paid went towards the Police deficit and not into the hands of a grasping developer or middleman (I assume). So it wasn’t money wasted – just moved about the public sector without much sensible thought.

    But weren’t there rumours at the time that it was destined to be a “Speaker’s House”? What was it actually bought for?

    Oh yes, and it has some history too. Wasn’t it used as the base for the UVF in East Belfast during the Ulster Crisis in 1912? I seem to recall from ATQ Stewart’s book that the whole distribution of guns from the Clyde Valley throughout County Down was led from a war room as Ormiston House which then stood on a key road between the garrison at Holywood and Belfast.

    So at only £6m perhaps its worth it. A snip! Glad to see them preserving part of our heritage in this way.

    Just put another 2p on the rates Nigel. You will need it.

  • The Raven

    Just to cross reference with Nevin, NIAO is an organisation which costs us around £25m every two-three years.

    It’s an organisation which relishes finding fault in everything it can, with bland recommendations for the future, and strays at every opportunity away from its financial remit into almost the role of “consultant”.

    Its every action ensures that the very few civil servants in this country who would love to take more risks in terms of the work they do are halted at every turn by the threat of the Auditor, and the PAC.

    Its only headline-worthy contribution to NI is the level of sickness leave taken in Councils – and even IT isn’t accurate. (Will discuss this some other time, me thinks.)

    And someone wishes to confer absolute privilege…???

    Rant over.

    By the way – the alleged loss to the Exchequer this year on freezing rates by the Assembly was just under £8m.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Raven,speaking as a former member of the PAC,the problem is that when major errors of judgement are made or indeed downright negligence in the management of public money the NIAO report on each subject is AGREED with the relevant department.In order to get agreement the findings and recommendations can be somewhat watered down by the time the departmental permanent secretary appears before the PAC.
    When was the last time a senior civil servant was sacked ?

  • Pigeon Toes

    So when will Mr Priestly stand befor Pac with regards to the procurement issues highlighted in 2008?

    Oh thats right “independent” investigations cleared his dept of wrongdoing. Funny that these were paid for by DRD/taxpayer to the tune of £55,000. Not bad for a few weeks “work”.

    If Gordon Brown makes the swingeing cuts as feared, will that mean there a few less civil servants to cock it up, and a few less ex civil servants to cover up any cock ups?

    If so then the £200 million will be the best money ever not spet in Northern Ireland