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Where are the Steeple millions?

MORE than two years after the council publicly pledged to plough millions into the site of Antrim’s Round Tower, it appears that the ambitious plans may have been quietly shelved.

Back in August 2016 Antrim and Newtownabbey Council proudly unveiled its ‘exciting plans’ for a ‘new community and recreational hub’ at the Steeple.

The Council insisted that it was determined to ensure that any plans for the site would balance ‘both the historical significance and local needs’.

Central to the concept was a proposal to showcase the Round Tower as a unique feature in the borough.

“At present the Tower is not readily accessible to visitors and there are no linked features and services,” said a spokesperson two years ago.

“The proposed connection to the Steeple House and the parkland could create a special attraction and generate interest in the monastic history of the site and the wider Antrim town area.

“The new proposal differs from previous plans in that it will retain the Steeple House and stable block as an integrated unit reflecting its past layout. This change is a key aspect of the concept plan as it impacts on the way in which the remainder of the site will be developed.

“The stable block to the rear of the house creates an opportunity for small business units, community enterprises or flexible community space.

“One of the key features of the new scheme, which has not been exploited to date is the ability of this park to link communities and facilities together, particularly nearby housing areas, Antrim Grammar, Parkhall College and the main transport and pedestrian routes.

“Opening up access points, creating pedestrian and cycle routes and improving the lighting and signage in the park will encourage a wide range of people to make use of and benefit from the park.”

Sounds good - but where’s the catch?

The estimated cost of the project was £6.7 million, some of which would come from ‘external funding’ and around £3 million from the council.

The bulk of the rest, however, would come from selling off two swathes of parkland for housing - a proposal which remains deeply unpopular among many residents.

Nevertheless, the project duly received the green light.

“In approving the Steeple Concept Plan at the council meeting on August 30 (2016) members have agreed that Phase One of the project, at an estimated cost of £4.32 million be implemented,” said the spokesperson.

“The implementation of the new concept plan heralds an exciting time for Antrim and one which we believe can produce great benefits for the local community and visitors alike.”

To clarify, the council had agreed to proceed with this - yet somewhere along the line the plan appears to have changed.

Fast forward to 2018 and there are two expressions of interest before council for Steeple House - in fact they are understood to be tabling their respective cases on December 13.

The Guardian understands that both are commercial, not community, enterprises.

As for the Round Tower, well it is still standing but there is no sign of the promised development which was supposed to ‘showcase’ it.

The proposal to sell off a few choice slices of the park for housing are still there too.

But what about the millions of council cash?

“Somewhere along the line the plans seem to have changed,” said an insider.

“Instead of being an opportunity to develop the Steeple, this seems to have become a valuable asset.

“As it stands, it seems more about making money than spending it.”

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