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Exclusive: Gaol developer tells Armagh I his fears for future of £23m hotel plans

The multi-millionaire leading plans to redevelop Armagh Gaol has spoken exclusively to Armagh I of his fears for the future of the project.

The £23 million redevelopment – which would create 350 jobs – will remain in limbo unless Stormont puts its money where its mouth is.

That’s according to Trevor Osborne, the chairman of the Trevor Osborne Property Group.Armagh Gaol

Speaking from his home at Bath in England, Mr Osborne warned that the money needed to bring the much-needed Armagh investment back on track will only continue to mount the longer the process drags on.

The former women’s prison is to be converted into a four-star boutique-style hotel and spa as part of a £23 million investment plan.

The overall scheme would see the creation of seven new retail units, restaurants, public space and a total of 32 apartments.

The developer, the Trevor Osborne Group, has previously revamped Oxford Jail, which now operates as a Mal Maison boutique hotel.

But last July the project was left in turmoil.

The Osborne Group is to invest £11 million towards the project, but money has also been promised by Stormont.

Yet the economic situation at Parliament Buildings is hardly any secret.

Stormont was told last year that an extra £4 million would be needed to proceed and the Osborne Group was in danger of walking away if the money was not in place by last September.

Well over a year later and that has never materialised – meaning costs continue to rise on a daily basis due to the state of the actual buildings and complex.

The Osborne Group remains committed to the multi-million restoration project, the developer told Armagh I.

But there has been no movement where promised and that is causing all manner of problems.

Mr Osborne told Armagh I: “We continue to be in touch with the Northern Ireland Government in relation to grant support for the project but, until their commitment is quantified and finalised, the project cannot proceed further.”

If the Gaol project does not go ahead, it will be another devastating blow for the local economy, to a city which has lost so much in recent times.

Armagh is already facing the proposed closure too of the Courthouse. There are fears that it could also be allowed to fall into disrepair if that happens or a large ongoing maintenance bill will need to be met by the powers-that-be as it is unlikely to be sold on for any other purpose.

With no movement, it is something which will continue at the opposite end of the Mall. The Gaol building is currently being used for tours, but that was only ever pending its restoration and being brought back into productive use.

The landmark Gaol building was built between 1780 and 1852 and was largely designed by architects Francis Cooley and William Murray. It has lain vacant since its closure in 1988.

The new hotel development would have ensured it was preserved for future generations and would have provided a huge number of jobs, both during the construction and upon completion.

But the longer the current impasse remains – and with no light still at the end of the tunnel – the more unlikely it will be to proceed.

Unless action is taken – and taken now – it might get to the stage where it is no longer financially feasible.

Mr Osborne added: “Unfortunately, the buildings are deteriorating rapidly.

“And with every month that passes it is likely that the building costs and, therefore, the need for grant will increase rather than diminish.”

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