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French firm Stargime presses ahead with proposals to transform Belfast site into grade A office space

By John Mulgrew

A French property firm is pressing ahead with plans for a new office development in Belfast, after another of its schemes hit a road block earlier this year.

Stargime has bought Graham House at Albert Square in Belfast city centre, and has plans at turning the building into a large office development.

It is now pressing along with a pre-application event, which is now a requirement of major new developments.

Stargime took on Graham House in December 2015 and propose to redevelop the site to provide up to 80,000 sq ft of grade A office accommodation.

Richard Bowman of Strategic Planning said it was too early to speak about the scale and size of the new development.

It comes after the Paris-based business hit a wall over plans to build a modern extension on to the former First Trust Bank building, designed by Queen’s University architect Sir Charles Lanyon, at Queen’s Square in the heart of the city.

But a third-party report commissioned for Belfast City Council raises serious concerns over the “considerable disadvantages of the impact on both the listed building and the setting in the square”.

And it suggested the development should not be put forward for approval. It has raised concerns over the impact it could have on the original 1850s building.

That could mean the city potentially losing out on a multi-million pound investment from a major international business, with which Stargime has said it is in “an advanced stage of negotiations”.

In its design statement, planners say that could be worth over £400m to the Northern Ireland economy over a 15-year period.

The office development received a number of letters of objection and concerns.

Mr Bowman of Strategic Planning, which is behind both developments here, said it was going “back to the drawing board” over the First Trust Bank building.

“We are back to the drawing board on that,” he said.

“Planners weren’t happy with the first application, so we are looking at another approach, and are going through various studies.”

Last year a report from Invest NI warned Northern Ireland could lose out on attracting crucial foreign direct investment due to a lack of prime office space.

And aside from Invest NI concerns, a number of reports from commercial property companies have also cited a severe lack of top-end office space as a major concern.

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