Belfast Telegraph

£400m plan for Belfast city centre raises fresh objections by campaigners

By John Mulgrew

A campaign group is claiming a planned £400m redevelopment of Belfast city centre is "outdated" and would see much of the area's character and history destroyed.

The Royal Exchange development is a 12-acre site based around Royal Avenue. New owner Castlebrooke Investments is planning a phased development of the area, which includes Donegall Street, North Street, Lower Garfield Street and High Street.

Plans show a move away from a retail-led scheme to include offices as well as accommodation, as part of a so-called 'mixed use' development.

Feedback and responses from the community are now being sought for the second proposed phase of the scheme, which includes redeveloping land around North Street, and extending across the car park towards Rosemary Street.

But Rebekah McCabe, who chairs the SaveCQ group, which is opposed to much of the firm's plans, says that while it recognises "how badly this area needs development... there are serious issues with the Royal Exchange scheme in its current form".

The group argues the plans include "unnecessary, unsuitable and completely outdated focus on office and retail space", poor provision for housing, no space for small or independent retailers and that there has been a "lack of meaningful community engagement".

"If this phase gets planning permission in its current form, it will have a domino effect on the rest of the site.

"The historic buildings on North Street will be under greater threat, permanently changing the face of the Cathedral Quarter, one of the city's most vibrant, dynamic and unique areas. ...our aim is to draw attention to the scheme's weaknesses so that they can be urgently addressed by Castlebrooke Investments and by Belfast City Council."

A spokesman for Castlebrooke Investments said: "Castlebrooke Investments are committed to the redevelopment of this part of Belfast, with the project representing an overall investment of approximately £400m when fully developed, with the construction alone set to cost in excess of £250m.

"The recent consultation on phase 1b relates to a car park and many underused buildings. It is therefore a prime site for regeneration.

"The pre-application consultation process remains open and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the plans further with individuals, businesses and other relevant groups."

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