The future King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Prince Charles, wrote to former Secretary of State Paul Murphy to suggest Ebrington Barracks be developed after a model used for the old Caterham Army base south of London.
That’s according to newly-released correspondence between Mr Murphy and the Prince, which took place in 2004 and concerned regenerating historic buildings in Northern Ireland, in which the latter took an active interest.
In September 2004 he wrote: “As regards the potential value to be realised from the regeneration and re-use of redundant historic landmark sites, often as catalysts for sympathetic, associated new development, along the lines of Caterham Barracks in Surrey, you said that you might consider Ebrington Barracks as a candidate for similar treatment and, if so, you might find it worthwhile to talk to Linden Homes, which was the company that did the work at Caterham.”
The Prince had written to Tony Blair’s Secretary of State, following a visit earlier that year.
Mr Murphy duly responded stating: “You will be interested to know that, following Angela Smith’s [a junior NIO Minister] visit to Caterham earlier this year, Angela will visit Ebrington Barracks shortly to help inform deliberations about the way forward for this landmark site.
The site in question, Caterham Barracks, had been converted into a high quality urban village after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) sold it in 1998.
A local community trust had overseen the development of three major buildings to meet the aspirations of local people for facilities which were not available at the time.
These include a 96 place nursery (the old Naafi), an enterprise centre (the Officers’ Mess) and the first phase of an Arts Centre, the ARC, in the refurbished gymnasiums.
Caterham had previously experienced the brunt of the Northern Ireland Troubles when the IRA left a bomb in the Caterham Arms, which was packed with off-duty soldiers in August 1975.
Twenty-three people were injured in that blast, which was the first in Britain since the IRA ceasefire of February 1975.
Thirty years later the heir apparent of the United Kingdom was suggesting the newly redeveloped garrison town in the North Downs could provide an example for the Maiden City.
The details were amongst several letters of correspondence published by the Government this week.