The centre of Hillsborough is due to undergo major change in the coming weeks as the old council building is demolished to make way for a £2 million residential development.
The man behind the ambitious project, businessman Mervyn Kennedy, has assured local residents that the new building - a complex comprising nine luxury apartments - will complement the existing Georgian-style properties in the picturesque village’s Square and Main Street.
Built in the early 1960s, the building served as the offices of Hillsborough Rural District Council and later Lisburn Borough Council from 1964. However, it has been lying vacant since the council moved to its current headquarters at Lagan Valley Island in March 2001.
Mr Kennedy, who lives in Hillsborough and purchased the property a couple of years ago, says the red brick building is “of no particular architectural significance”, and confirmed that demolition work is due to begin “within the next five or six weeks”.
“We will be demolishing it soon and replacing it with a building which is almost identical to the Royal Corporation Hotel which dated back to the 1700s and was accidentally burnt down whilst the British Army was using it as a barracks during World War Two. We have planning permission to replace it with nine luxury apartments with underground car parking,” he explained.
Stressing that the new building’s Georgian-style design, Flemish bond brickwork and sash windows will fit in with the existing streetscape, Mr Kennedy added: “The new building will complement the existing conservation buildings in The Square and Main Street. The Conservation Department have gone to great lengths to ensure the building is authentic, right down to the letterbox and door knocker.”
Work on the new building is expected to get under way later this year, and Mr Kennedy hopes the new apartments will be complete sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.
Redevelopment of the disused civic building by MG Kennedy Properties Ltd comes at the same time as Historic Royal Palaces is pushing ahead with its revamp of Hillsborough Castle in the hope that it will become one of the top tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. And Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is also progressing plans for a public realm scheme with the aim of improving the condition of the streets and public spaces within the centre of the village.
“The whole Hillsborough project is coming on nicely and I can imagine it’s going to be up there with attractions such as the Titanic centre and the Giant’s Causeway. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s a beautiful wee village and one of the nicest anywhere in Ireland,” Mr Kennedy added.
Alderman Jim Dillon, who has been a local councillor for more than four decades, has many fond memories of the old council offices, but says he’ll be glad to see the site finally redeveloped.
“I loved that old building and I was very loath to leave. I have a lot of great memories of that building. I remember the last time I left I walked down the steps and there was a tear in my eye,” the UUP man said.
“We went back a few weeks later as the chief executive had arranged a photoshoot for memorabilia and I just thought ‘How in the name of heavens did we stay here so long?’ There was no accommodation at all. The mayor’s parlour wasn’t any bigger than a good super loo! I suppose the chamber was adequate for the number of members then - just 23 in those days.”
Among his many memories of the place, Alderman Dillon recalls the protest against the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and a large ‘Ulster Says No’ banner adorning the front of the council offices.
“I’ll be very sad to see it go, but I’ll be glad to see it redeveloped. I have no doubt that it will be redeveloped in the style of Hillsborough and I wish the developer every success,” he added.
Also keen to see the site brought back into use, local UUP Councillor John Palmer said it wouldn’t have been economically viable to refurbish the old building.
“It’s been lying empty for years and there have been different developers in and out. If something had’ve been done when it was first sold it was in reasonably good shape so something could have been done with the building then, but it’s deteriorated that much it probably wouldn’t be economically viable to revamp the old building,” he commented.
“I think what Mervyn Kennedy has planned is going to be in keeping with the rest of the village so I’m glad it’s going ahead.”