The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, today announced plans for the future guardianship of Hillsborough Castle.
Ms Villiers said:
Hillsborough Castle has a unique place in the history of Northern Ireland and the government is determined to ensure that its potential is fully realised, for the benefit of the whole community.
Plans are now well underway to pass the operation of Hillsborough Castle to Historic Royal Palaces, who have an impressive track record in running similar properties. Their team brings a wealth of expertise and specialist skills to care for, conserve and maintain this wonderful heritage asset.
This is an exciting new chapter in the history of Hillsborough Castle as both a working Royal residence and a great place for the public to visit.
The plan is to increase public access to Hillsborough Castle and improve the visitor experience. However, the Castle will remain the Royal residence in Northern Ireland and continue to provide residential and office accommodation for the Secretary of State.
Hillsborough Castle currently receives significant support from the taxpayer. Under the guardianship of Historic Royal Palaces it will operate on a more cost-effective and financially sustainable basis, reducing the cost to the taxpayer.
Subject to contractual agreements, the Castle’s transition to the new business model will commence at the beginning of April 2014, although many of the changes will not take effect for 2 or 3 years. Further announcements will be made in due course.
Michael Day, Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces said:
Historic Royal Palaces is delighted to be working with the Northern Ireland Office to explore how Hillsborough Castle, with its fascinating history and glorious gardens, can be opened up for the benefit of the wider community.
We look forward to bringing our experience in managing historic properties, such as the Tower of London and Kensington Palace, to conserving and telling the stories of this unique heritage site for universal public enjoyment, while maintaining its role as a Royal residence and base for the Secretary of State.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and Historic Royal Palaces have been working very closely on this initiative with the Royal households.
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. It aims to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.
Historic Royal Palaces depends solely on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. It receives no funding from the government or the Crown.
Hillsborough Castle is a late 18th Century mansion house and a Grade B+ listed building. It was the principal seat in Ireland of the Marquesses of Downshire for over 200 years and passed into public ownership in the 1920s. The estate consists of approximately 100 acres of parkland.
Since 1972 the NIO has been responsibility for the day to day running of the Hillsborough Castle estate.
A selection of photos of Hillsborough Castle is freely available for download from the NIO Flickr site.