Northern Ireland

High street goes under the hammer

Former Newtownstewart PSNI station
Image caption The site of the former Newtownstewart police station is up for auction

The Northern Ireland high street is up for sale.

Businesses from town centres across the country can be snapped up at bargain prices.

Fancy buying the local pub? What about a branch of the bank? Or, who wants to get their hands on a former police station?

Well, the bank and police station are available in a property auction running in Belfast next month and four pubs can also be bought by 'private treaty'.

The auction, run by Osborne King, may not feature as large a selection of property as those recently held in the Republic but it is still an indication of the huge downturn in the property market in Northern Ireland.

There are also a host of other commercial properties and town centre sites up for sale.

Some of the properties being auctioned have been repossessed, others are an attempt to move on unwanted land at a tidy profit.

The former PSNI station in Newtownstewart is one such property. It closed in August 2009 and is now on sale with a maximum reserve price of £70,000 for a 1.6-acre site.

And if you don't want a police station, you might like to own a bank instead. In Aughnacloy the former Northern Bank building is available from £50,000.

Image caption The former Northern Bank in Aughnacloy has a maximum reserve price of £70,000

Both the PSNI and Northern Bank are trimming the number of properties they operate from - for vastly different reasons.

The PSNI inherited 140 stations from the RUC in 2001 and as part of the 'normalisation' of security in Northern Ireland that will be reduced to 49 by 2015.

The site of the former Coagh police station sold for £54,000 in December and many more are expected on the market in the coming months and years.

The Northern Bank has weathered the recession fairly well but has trimmed its number of branches, announcing the closure of 22 branches since 2008. And the only way for the bank to recoup some money from the closed branches is in a property auction.

So far the Northern has sold nine branches, more are on the market and four more branches marked for closure go on the market later this year.

Reduced prices

As for the pubs and restaurants, these can be bought in a more traditional transaction. Well known and successful bars will be bought by one of the large groups that own many of the nightspots in Northern Ireland but the irony is that the unsuccessful end up being advertised in the papers.

The recession has hit the licensed trade hard and many pubs and bars have closed over the last three or four years. Dozens are looking for new owners.

Just this week, the First and Last in Banbridge is up for sale alongide a former social club on the Shankill Road in Belfast. Licensed premises in Dunmurry and Gilford are also available at reduced prices.

The Osborne King auction is to be held on 8 March in Belfast and it is the third the firm has held in the last year.

Associate director Mark Carron said: "It is a simple sale in terms of the product. We did sell a police station in Coagh in the last auction in September.

"It is a mixture of high street properties and homes. We have sold a number of banks for the Northern and there are a number for sale at the moment."

And Mr Carron has seen the number of auctions increase.

"They are growing in popularity and other people are now doing them as well," he said.

"In Great Britain they are held every month. It is a smaller market in Northern Ireland but we are looking at doing them on a quarterly basis."

So more auctions could mean more of the high street for sale. What's next? A school? A chemists? A prison?

One thing is for sure, we haven't seen the end of 'for sale' signs on the high streets of Northern Ireland.

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