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.