Trust may gift historic house to council

The White House.
The White House.

Newtownabbey’s oldest building, the White House, could be gifted to the council by the White House Preservation Trust, the Times understands.

Members of the Trust worked tirelessly for over 12 years to transform the 400-year-old ruined Plantation Bawn at Whitehouse Park.

Their efforts finally paid off in May 2012 with the official opening of the £1.15million White House Heritage Centre - a modern exhibition space and educational resource.

The building, which welcomed King William III on his way to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, has been described as one of the most historically important properties in Europe.

At Monday night’s (July 7) full council meeting, members went ‘into committee’ to discuss a confidential report on the future of the building.

The Times understands that the council has been asked to consider taking ownership of the property and taking on the running of the heritage centre.

The local authority has given the Trust significant financial backing over recent years, including agreeing a one-year £20,000 grant funding extension last September.

One councillor, who didn’t want to be named, said the group has taken the heritage centre project as far as it can and now wants the council use its resources to open the facility up to a wider audience.

“We are being offered a property which is worth a million pounds and we would be expected to look after the maintenance of it. But members feel that this is a property of considerable historic value - it’s on the Williamite Trail - and it’s an exciting opportunity for the council to add to its tourism portfolio,” the member commented.

Another elected representative added: “We agreed in principle that we will accept the gifting of the property to the council, but officers will have to look at things like running costs, how we would staff the place and an overall business case before any final decisions are made.”

The council declined to give any detail of that was discussed in the ‘behind closed doors’ meeting. But a spokesperson for the local authority said that a report will be drawn up by officers in relation to the White House and presented to the council in due course.

The chairman of the White House Preservation Trust, Cllr Billy Webb, was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

The group’s secretary, Alister Bell, admitted that the Trust is in discussions with the council, but said that he couldn’t make any comment on the issue.