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Council defends spending £250,000 of ratepayer money on maintenance of vacant properties

Armagh gaol

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has defended the spending of £256,000 on the maintenance of empty buildings in the area.

Pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed that between January 2016 and December 2017, Northern Ireland  councils spent a total of £292,000 on properties vacant for all or part of that time.

With nine empty buildings, ABC Council had the highest local spend of all 10 other boroughs combined.

SDLP councillor Joe Nelson, a member of the council’s governance, policy and resources committee, told the Belfast Telegraph: “If we’re looking for a reason why the cost is higher than any other council, then I would say look no further than Armagh Gaol.

“That project is currently continuing but it does require both an external developer funder and funding from government.

“But as we don’t have a functioning regional government at the minute, the whole project is behind schedule.

“Hopefully, in this term, the council can get something done about it.”

He added: “There’s still a considerable amount to be done. There’s about a £6m shortfall in an overall cost of £70m; it’s a huge project.

“There will be a requirement for government support as it is a signature project for tourism and it’s hoped it could be used in the future as a boutique hotel.”

However, a spokesperson for the Council said: “During this period, one of these properties, which the reported financial figure relates to, was undergoing restoration works as part of a major regeneration project for the area funded by the Department of Communities and the Council.

“The building in question has since created four jobs and brought vibrancy to the immediate area.

“The project has also been shortlisted for two prestigious Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors awards, highlighting the quality and significance of this completed scheme.”

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