THE National Trust should not be handed sole control of the Causeway Memorial School building, according to MLA Jim Allister.
Earlier this month the Chronicle reported how the charitable trust run by members of the Macnaghten family were planning to relinquish ownership of the historic schoolhouse
Details of the move were published by the Charity Commission as part of a public consultation.
Among those to respond was the North Antrim MLA.
“I recognise something needs to be done to provide for the future of this valued asset, but gifting it to exclusive National Trust control is not, I believe, in the local public interest,” said Mr Allister in his submission.
“I am not opposed to a role for the National Trust, but firmly believe it should not have exclusive control.
“Subsuming this historic asset into the National Trust's empire at the Causeway, without any local input or control, will not, I believe, see it put to use which maximises local benefit.
Mr Allister suggests the transfer proposal fails to comply with spirit of the charitable trust's original aims – which included “the advancement of education and the Protestant religion.”
He states: “Since the present proposal seeks to expunge the advancement of religion and the specific focus on local benefit (replacing specific neighbourhood provision and meeting local need with the public interest at large) and involvement as trustees of members of the local Macnaghten family, I question how it can be said to be compliant with "the spirit of the original gift".
He goes on: “Moreover, the local perception is that the National Trust is an organisation that pays little regard to local interests (for example, there is a current controversy at The Causeway over the National Trust's attempts to restrict use of public rights of way.)”
A school house was first erected on the site in 1840 by Sir Francis Workman Macnaghten with the purpose of educating children living in the townland of Ardihannon
It was also used for religious services on Sundays.
The building which currently occupies the site was built between 1914 and 1915
The freehold was handed over to a charitable trust set up in 1927 and, a year later a 99-year lease was granted to Antrim County Council at an annual rent of one shilling.
The lease was inherited by the North East Education and Library Board and then the Education Authority. The school was closed in the 1960s and in later years operated as a museum and living history experience.
However, by 2013 officials had decided they could no longer afford the £30,000 per year running costs.
In his submission Mr Allister says it was clear the family of Lord Macnaghten were intent on bestowing benefit on the local people, specifically those residing in the immediate townlands.
He concluded; “To now substitute for such localised purposes and provision the exclusive control of a national organisation, whereby any public use -local or otherwise - is entirely at their discretion, is, I believe, a retrograde step which emphatically infringes the spirit of the original gift.”
The National Trust says it would be eager to work with the local community to establish “a long-term vision for the school, to restore the building and ensure it is available for future generations to explore and enjoy, guided by the original aims of the Causeway Memorial School Trust.”