There was disappointment this week at news of a court ruling that mental health charity Praxis must indeed quit its coffee shop and market garden facility in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle.
Having been given use of part of the estate - where it provided employment for people with learning difficulties - in 2001, the charity mounted a campaign against demands that it relinquish its ‘Secret Garden’ to facilitate a major revamp of Castle and grounds by Historic Royal Palaces, who took over control from the Northern Ireland Office last year.
However, in the High Court, Mr Justice Deeny ruled the charity did not have a “certain interest” in the land and must hand over possession to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
He said that while Praxis was clearly seeking a 25-year lease with a nominal rent, there was no indication anyone had given them reason to expect it and he had identified no “unconscionable behaviour” on the part of the secretary of state or officials. “It seems to me,” he said, “that they were, as instructed by their superiors, co-operative with Praxis but it was clearly the decision of Praxis to go ahead and build here without ensuring that it was legally wise to do so.
“They did not even consult a solicitor before commencing their works. They were relying on a successful conclusion of these negotiations.”
Mr Justice Deeny said his ruling did not affect a separate Praxis claim for compensation, but the charity , he warned, might wish to reflect carefully on whether to pursue it.
Ulster Unionist Councillor Alexander Redpath, a leading champion of the Praxis facility, said he was deeply disappointed the outcome in court couldn’t have been avoided.
“I refuse to believe that Praxis could not have been suitably accommodated on a site of that size,” he said.
“I appreciate that there are plans for the redevelopment of the Castle but I am sad that Praxis could not be included in these.”