Fresh plans submitted for long-awaited Crumlin Road Gaol whiskey distillery

Plans for a multi-million pound whiskey distillery at the iconic Crumlin Road Gaol have been revisited
Gareth McKeown

PLANS for a multi-million pound whiskey distillery and tourist attraction at the iconic Crumlin Road Gaol site are back on the table.

The north Belfast development, first mooted almost a decade ago and spearheaded by lottery winner, Peter Laverty, is a step closer to reality after a fresh planning application was lodged last month.

The application from Belfast Distillery Company is for demolitions and alterations, both internal and external, to the vacant A-Wing at the prison to facilitate plant equipment and associated works relating to a whiskey distillery and visitor attraction. Belfast-based Like Architects is behind the latest design.

It can be revealed however, that Mr Laverty, who first announced the plans back in 2012, will not be part of the new development.

Four American businessmen; James Ammeen, Joseph Babiec, William Bocra and Mark Fuller are now listed as directors of Belfast Distillery Company, with Mr Laverty stepping away from the company in July last year.

It is understood that the American-run company will now seek to resume the construction work on site, which began at Crumlin Road Gaol back in February 2015, but was paused a year later due to unforeseen problems, believed to relate to asbestos at the listed building.

At the time a spokesman for the the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) confirmed problems had been encountered during building work and that the developer was seeking extra funds to bring the project to completion. They did not disclose any details about the exact problems faced by the company.

“It is not unusual for old buildings to require repairs,” the spokesman said.

“The extent of the work which Belfast Distillery Company Ltd had to carry out was greater than they anticipated, delaying other work and generating an increase in costs.

“OFMDFM is supporting the company by engaging with public bodies to identify potential additional funding streams to ensure the project can be delivered," they added.

A Freedom of Information request from April last year revealed that the Department for Infrastructure and OFMDFM incurred a total cost of almost £90,000 (£87,829.75) at the site from 2012 to 2018.

Following calls from OFMDFM for proposals to regenerate A-Wing at Crumlin Road Gaol, Peter Lavery announced multi-million pound distillery plans in May 2012.

The investment, reported at the time to be in excess of £5 million was for the transformation of the listed building into a boutique distillery as well as a

visitors' centre, tasting room, bar, restaurant and shop.

Mr Laverty claimed the project would create as many as 60 jobs, up to five of which would be within the working distillery and it would "bring back to prominence an industry with which the city has long historical associations".

“The wing in the gaol is ideally suited for use as a distillery without any compromise to the character or to the architectural and historic interest of a building that is listed for preservation as of great historic significance," he said.

Crumlin Road Gaol dates back to 1845 and closed its doors in 1996. Following extensive renovations the prison has rebranded itself as a popular visitor attraction and conference centre.

Signature Living is behind the £20m transformation of the neighbouring Crumlin Road Courthouse into the 77-bedroom Crum Hotel. It is one of three hotels due to be built in the city by the Liverpool developer, alongside the George Best and Waring Hotels.

Last month The Irish News revealed that the long-awaited George Best Hotel, which had been due to open on June 14, may not open its doors until next year, after another delay halted the progress of the project.

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