Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Frustration at 10-year delay to Armagh Gaol redevelopment

Plans to convert Armagh Gaol into a hotel and heritage centre remain on hold, almost ten years after they were first announced, and now hinge on the Stormont Executive committing substantial funding, The Examiner has learned.

The Bath-based firm behind the project – Trevor Osborne Property Group – is still awaiting confirmation of financial support from Stormont, its head Trevor Osborne has said, and he has cited concerns over how the prolonged delay may impact on the condition of the building, which is affected by damp.

He pointed out that work on the former women’s prison could not commence until all funding for the £25m project had been secured.   Along with the £11m he is providing himself, a further £4m has been offered by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, while £2m may potentially be made available through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the scheme is dependent on Stormont making up the estimated £7m shortfall.

The businessman says, as yet, he has been unable to get confirmation from the various Executive departments as to what funding will be made available, and the delay has led to concerns over further deterioration of the building, which dates back to 1780.

“Together with the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, we remain ready to proceed with this project, but it’s first of all necessary to clarify what funding is going to be available from funding resources,” Mr Osborne said.

“Time has gone by and we haven’t been able to get confirmation from the various departments.  There has been the dilapidation you would expect – roofs, walls and damp.  It is concerning because another winter is coming, and that is not very good for a vacant building,” he added.

A spokesperson from the Department for Communities said as the Gaol is owned by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, it “would be best placed to provide an update” on the position of plans for the site.

Meanwhile Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said it “remains committed to this regeneration project” and continues to work very closely with the Trevor Osborne Property Group to update the business case for the redevelopment.

“The Trevor Osborne Property Group, which has pledged £11m, providing that public sector grants can be obtained, continues to retain its solid, long-standing commitment.  We look forward to being in a position over the coming months to provide more details on outline timescales, funding arrangements and the next steps in relation to this project,” a Council spokesperson said.

During the 1970s and 80s, Armagh Gaol housed up to 120 female republican prisoners who in 1980, in solidarity with their comrades in Long Kesh, staged a no-wash protest which was to last five years and brought the conditions in the jail and abusive treatment of inmates to international attention.

The jail closed in 1986 and in 2009, the Trevor Osborne Property Group, in partnership with Armagh Council and the Princes Regeneration Trust, signed a partnership agreement to convert the building into a hotel.