TWO historic buildings at St Patrick’s Barracks – which initially had been a key part of a multi-million pounds redevelopment scheme – are to be demolished.
The Sandhurst and York buildings are coming down ‘due to the high levels of asbestos and the financial implications,’ a report prepared for councillors reveals.
Meanwhile, ‘lead contaminated’ soil at a former firing range in the site will also have to be shovelled out, the report says.
When the multi-million pound redevelopment of the former army base in Ballymena was first suggested a report at the time said the Sandhurst and York buildings would be used “for civic and community purposes”.
When the barracks scheme was first suggested several years ago, a council official had revealed the following plans: “There is a proposal for a mix of housing of some 140 houses, a £26m health and wellbeing centre, which has already been approved by the Council, a consolidated campus for the Northern Regional College, new road infrastructure linking the Ecos Centre to the Larne Link Road, the proposal of a University Technical College, and a view to have the City Deal Funded Integrated Industrial Inspiration and Innovation Centre (i4C).”
However, a new report presented to councillors at a recent meeting of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council says the buildings have to be tumbled because of asbestos and ‘financial implications’.
The report says that ‘following the decision to remove the York and Sandhurst buildings due to the high levels of asbestos and the financial implications there was an opportunity to rethink Council’s proposals’.
The report continued: ‘The contract for asbestos removal and demolition work relating to the York and Sandhurst Buildings will be procured by DfC (Department for Communities).
‘DfC have indicated that they are aiming to commence procurement of a contractor in September 2020 and be in a position to award the contract by November 2020.
‘It is anticipated that works will commence on site in January 2021 and they will last for 6 to 8 months. The York Building will be the first building to be demolished due to its proximity to the new road infrastructure with the Sandhurst to follow later in 2021,’ the report says.
It added that a full review and evaluation of the site outlined the potential to create a ‘strong Civic Quarter theme through informed site selection, building positioning and layout’.
The report said ‘potential’ projects include ‘civic office space, civic events space with linkages to the Showgrounds, leisure, health and well being, private sector development’.
It said councillors agreed to appoint an ‘architect led design team’ to develop a preferred option for the site layout.
Mayor, Cllr Peter Johnston, told the Council meeting that despite the impact of the pandemic work “remains on track” at the former barracks.
At the same meeting, Cllr Timothy Gaston asked about the civic offices as he said his understanding was that a feasibility study was still ongoing about the potential final location of civic offices in Ballymena.
Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy told the meeting: “It is only the initial feasibility stage that we are at”.
She said there had been “many discussions in terms of what we do and how we move forward”.
The report says architects and consultants ‘have been appointed to progress with the design of the Parade Square and Civic Office’ and they have also been tasked with incorporating existing design work for the leisure centre and i4C into the new site layout’.
It adds: ‘This stage of the design process will also include developing concepts for the re-purposing of the retained brickwork from the York and Sandhurst buildings’.
The designs are due to be ready by November, the report says.
It was also stated work on a new link road running from Broughshane Road to Larne Road Link is being targeted for a February start next year and it would take ten months to complete.
It was also revealed the Council had reached an agreement with organisations including the police regarding ‘temporary access arrangements for the Showgrounds on match days during the construction period.’
The report for councillors said Radius Housing is planning 136 homes at the site.
The ‘Ballymena Daily’ story generated debate about the former army buildings on our Facebook page.
TUV councillor Matthew Armstrong, responding to comments, said the following on the ‘Ballymena Daily’ Facebook page:
“The report that the article references is just a summary which is used for councillors to follow what the officers are explaining on any given agenda item.
“At the end of 2019, a quote was sought and obtained for the removal of the asbestos and then a further quote for the works which would need to be undertaken to renovate the buildings to a safe standard which could be used as part of the wider project. The reported asbestos levels were almost double what were first anticipated.
“In receipt of these estimates it was the view of Council that it would have been economically unviable for them to be retained given the numbers presented.
“In March, Council sent a letter to Dfc, who are in control of the site, to express the view that councillors wished the two buildings to remain if at all possible.
“As a compromise councillors wished to keep the facade and incorporate it into a new feature, this too was shown to be unviable.
“I share your frustration as do a great many of the councillors, and there were many questions asked from across the floor at the time.
“There are conversations happening which would hopefully see an area set aside to pay tribute to the men and women who were based there that served in our armed forces,” added Cllr Armstrong.