A VACANT hall in Holywood has become a ‘magnet for trouble’, with reports of children getting ‘stuck’ on a gate at the site, it has been claimed.

The former Downshire gospel hall, which has been left vacant and boarded up for a number of years, is scheduled to become 21 apartments, but the only occupants at the moment are vandals and those engaging in anti-social behaviour.

The new development, by the McGinnis Group, based in Eglinton, was given the green light in July 2021, but to-date, no work has begun and now safety fears are rife after children got stuck on the access gate at the side of the building on August 1st.

The Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) was summoned to assist the child, aged approximately 11 or 12, but the child was removed with the assistance of adults using a ladder, a spokesperson for the NIRFS said.

The derelict hall, at the corner of Downshire and Church View roads, has been the scene of break-ins and anti-social behaviour in recent weeks, according to North Down MLA Andrew Muir.

He fears that with ‘no immediate plans for development concerns are this spot in the town centre will be left empty for years to come’.

 “I first received reports of break-ins and anti-social behaviour in July this year and despite raising this with the property management company and local neighbourhood police team, issues are still ongoing. 

“There have been further break-ins and most recently an incident involving children getting stuck on the access gate at the side of the building.”

Mr Muir said he understands attempts have been made to secure the site but that it continues to be breached.

“I understand there are considerable reinforcements being undertaken to secure the property which is welcome news but it’s clear the site has become a bit of a magnet for trouble and needs further attention from local policing teams.”

The MLA said he feared it could be some time before the disused building is demolished to make way for the planned apartments and further highlighted the safety fears.

“With no immediate plans for demolition I’m concerned the site will be left vacant for some time to come. Residents shouldn’t have to put up with this constant disruption and I’m concerned someone could get seriously injured if there isn’t timely progress with plans here.

Police in Ards and North Down confirmed they have received a number of reports in recent months regarding young people engaging in anti-social behaviour in the Downshire Road area of Holywood.

A police spokesman said he wanted to reassure local residents that police take anti-social behaviour very seriously.

“We will continue to work alongside our partner agencies, local representatives and the community to address any reports of anti-social behaviour in the town,” he said.

“We continue to maintain a visible policing presence in the area in order to tackle the issue.”

He added that parents had a role to play.

“We would also ask parents and guardians to speak to the young people in their care about where they are and who they are with. Please warn them of the dangers of getting involved in behaviour which could result in them injuring themselves, others, or ultimately, with a criminal record which could have an impact on their future employment and even travel.”

He asked anyone witnessing any anti-social or criminal behaviour to report any incidents to us on the non-emergency number 101. 

The McGinnis Group did not wish to make any comment.