JD Wetherspoon steps up plans to convert church into latest pub
The wheels are in motion for pub giant JD Wetherspoon's conversion of a former Methodist church in Belfast into its latest Northern Ireland bar.
Planning permission is being sought to refurbish the disused redbrick property on University Street, after the pub chain purchased the site in October last year.
The plans will see the grade-B listed building undergo numerous alterations.
The company claimed it will maintain all the original features of the building. It's one of two new pubs the chain is set to open in Belfast over the coming months.
Eddie Gershon of JD Wetherspoon said: "The scheme proposes to utilise all of the existing features in this listed building.
"The interior design intends to enhance the buildings original features and will retain the original galleries on three sides, all existing leaded light windows (currently covered up) will be repaired.
"The building had been left empty for a number of years and considerable damage has been caused during that time due to water ingress, JD Wetherspoon will invest heavily in the repair of the building envelope.
"And the outside of the property will see the creation of three smoking areas, and the restoration of some damaged parts of the building. The exterior of the property will be repaired and restored using like-for-like materials," Mr Gershon added.
"The external garden areas are currently severely overgrown, these will be brought back into use and external seating will be created on all three sides of the building."
The discount pub chain, whose founder and chairman Tim Martin is from Northern Ireland, bought the church for a reported £1.2m - three times the original asking price of £400,000.
The planning application has been entered, with the Department of Environment writing to neighbours of the church and some public bodies, to ask if they have any objections to the building's change of use.
Of the six bodies contacted the Environment Agency's Historic Monuments Unit is only one to have replied.
It has stated it has no concerns with the conversion.
JD Wetherspoon said it has not received any complaints from traders or the public about its takeover of the former church.
The University Street site is one of two properties the firm bought in Belfast last year, after it purchased the former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue, which went into administration in 2012.
In December the Belfast Telegraph revealed the bars are part of an £4m investment in the city by the pub chain, which will see the creation of up to 100 jobs.
JD Wetherspoon has a history of converting landmark buildings in the province.
It has transformed a former linen hall in Enniskillen, its pub in Coleraine is based in the old court house, while in Ballymena it is housed in a former spinning mill.
Last week trade body R3 found fewer pubs are now at risk of going under in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK.
Just under one in five pubs are at a "higher than normal" risk of insolvency, compared with the UK average of 27.3%.