LONDON, ONT. -- A local group of heritage advocates says if the nationally historic Middlesex County Court House building is allowed to fall into private hands, then the preservation of all heritage sites in the region will be at risk.

The comments come on the heels of news that Middlesex County has signed a conditional offer with York Developments to sell the famous castle-like building at 399 Ridout Street, along with the health unit building next door, and the land the two buildings sit on.

Local historian, Joe O’Neil, who speaks for the group, calls it the oldest and most important heritage property in all of southwestern, Ontario.

“If we can't protect this, if governments can't put themselves together collectively to protect this then our moral authority to protect any heritage site in southwestern, Ontario anywhere in the future is zero.”

While the inside of the castle building has been renovated numerous times, advocates worry future structural issues could allow further modifications that would compromise the building’s heritage value.

London Mayor Ed Holder says the building is well protected by heritage and historical designations.

“That still falls within the City of London, and we have very specific rules around architecture, and architectural supporters know that, they really know that. And if they need some additional information I'm happy to provide that to them.”

O’Neil says he and many others are convinced there are human remains on the property as well.

“Land that was used to execute people in front of the public is now going to be sold into private hands. What do you do with something like that? Do you put a restaurant patio out on land like that? Lands marked that way should always be held in the public trust, forever.”

However, the president of York Developments, Ali Soufan, says “We made a commitment that we’re going to preserve the building.”

He adds that due diligence will take place as far as archaeological concerns, but the goal is to develop the property. He also says that none of the people speaking out about the plans have approached him.

O’Neil, meanwhile, says his group has no qualms with York Developments, but he laments the fact that an important historical property was allowed to fall into private hands. For that, he blames all levels of government.

“The idea that our politicians - federal, provincial, civic and county are not stepping up to the plate and protecting lands like that is utterly repugnant and disgusting to me.”