Northern Ireland

For sale: Police training college, one careful owner

PSNI graduates
Image caption PSNI new recruits will now be trained in County Tyrone

For Sale: A unique once in a lifetime opportunity to buy a huge site in east Belfast at a knockdown price.

This 18-acre development opportunity on the outskirts of Belfast has only had one careful owner, who has relocated to County Tyrone because of work commitments.

Surprisingly spacious, with excellent transport links and formerly a home to over 4,000 contented, young professionals during the past decade; can you afford to miss out on one of the best value investment opportunities to come on the market in recent years?

Yours for just £5m.

A bit of a stretch perhaps but this could be a very real scenario in the near future.

At the last Policing Board meeting it was confirmed that the entire Garnerville training college could be sold when the PSNI relocates to County Tyrone.

Since its inception in 2001 the PSNI has trained 4,033 new officers at Garnerville.

A new £140m training college is being built at Desertcreat, outside Cookstown. The PSNI will share it with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. It is due to be completed in 2015.

Image caption A sight soon to be seen in Cookstown, not east Belfast

That means the current college in east Belfast will be unnecessary and potentially unwanted. And that is where potential buyers could sneak in.

A Belfast commercial and residential estate agent estimates that the 18-acre site could be worth £5m at current market prices.

The only stumbling block would be that any uses for Garnerville as a public sector property must be considered first. Could it be used for more civil service office space? Will much-needed social housing be built on it?

When these avenues are exhausted, and only then, will Garnerville be put on the market. And whatever money is made from the sale will be ploughed back into paying for the new training college at Desertcreat.

A similar fate awaits the PSNI's much smaller training facility at the Steeple in Antrim. Any proceeds from its sale will also go towards paying for the new college.

'Open market'

In a statement the Policing Board made clear that keeping the huge site within public usage was the priority, but could not rule out having to sell it.

"In due course the site will be submitted to Land and Property Services to be circulated throughout the public sector for expressions of interest in the first instance, in accordance with guidance for the 'Disposal of Public Sector Surplus Property'," read the statement.

"Should there be no interest from the public sector, the property could then proceed directly to the open market for disposal."

The Chair of the Policing Board, Brian Rea, said: "The receipts from the sale of the sites at Garnerville and Steeple form a key part of the business case for its (the new training college) development."

But DUP MLA for East Belfast, and member of the Policing Board, Robin Newton, wants to see the site used for something of benefit to the people in the area.

"A bringing together of departments that are spread across various city-wide sites onto the secure Garnerville property would make common sense," he said.

"Consolidating onto one location will help with budget savings, increase the efficiency of government and release other sites for potential development.

"Whatever the final use of the site, either for additional employment on site or for public housing, it cannot be left to create blight and become a eyesore within the district."