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Belfast Harbour Commissioners 'tried to put up roadblocks' to new developments on city's waterfront, court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 18/05/2016

Belfast Harbour Commissioners have allegedly tried to put up "roadblocks" to new developments on the city's waterfront, the High Court heard today.

A judge was told potential land deals have been hit by stalemate and delay due to a dispute over a master agreement for the 185-acre site's multi-million pound regeneration.

The claims were made at the start of a legal battle between the Commissioners, who own the land, and its developer tenants Titanic Quarter Ltd.

Both sides have worked together for more than a decade to deliver major projects including a financial services centre and commercial, education, residential and leisure facilities.

The area also boasts the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction, film studios and the Northern Ireland Science Park.

Other schemes for which planning permission has been granted include office blocks and a new four-star boutique hotel.

But they are on hold due to the dispute over the interpretation of the master agreement signed back in 2004.

With suggested mediation having failed to materialise, the Commissioners issued proceedings aimed at clarifying the terms of a contract which runs until 2030.

As a planned three-day hearing got underway, the court heard claims that Titanic Quarter Ltd wanted to be able to take projects to its landlord as a "fait accompli".

But Stephen Shaw QC, for the Commissioners, contended that they should not have to approve developments deemed inappropriate.

"We say we are obliged to look at it in good faith, but we don't have to justify our refusal to the tenant," he said.

Mr Shaw argued that the defendants were trying to take that limited onus and "somehow magic that into an overarching obligation on us in all these arrangements".

However, Michael Humphries QC, representing Titanic Quarter Ltd, insisted the master agreement was not couched in the language of veto.

"If you refuse you must refuse it in good faith, you can't refuse it for bad reasons, dishonest reasons or to pursue ulterior motives," he told the court.

According to Mr Humphries developments are on hold until a ruling is made on a series of questions posed by the Commissioners about the master agreement.

"That has led to delay and stalemate, and failure to take forward proposals," he said.

"The parties should now move forward and continue to try and develop for the benefit of the city of Belfast, rather than put up roadblocks as the Commissioners have tried to do over the last number of months."

The allegation was immediately refuted by his opposite number.

Mr Shaw stressed: "I fundamentally reject the suggestion that we have put up roadblocks."

At that point Lord Justice Girvan urged both sides to hold private discussions aimed at avoiding lengthy court proceedings.

The case was adjourned until tomorrow (Thursday).

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