A body which aims to protect commercial and cultural interests in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter has objected to plans to demolish a former tea warehouse and build apartments at the edge of the cultural district.
Village Homes – owned by Alan Fraser of the well-known housebuilding family – applied for planning permission in 2011 to demolish the Nambarrie Building on Waring Street and build 56 apartments.
While the Department of the Environment has indicated it intends to approve the plans, Belfast City Council town planning committee last week deferred giving its view, holding up the process by up to one month.
The building is part of the district designated by the DoE as the Cathedral Conservation Area, where the "retention, rehabilitation and re-use" of existing buildings is encouraged where possible.
It's believed Village Homes paid £1.2m for the building, which had been on the market since 2008 with an asking price of £2.25m.
The Cathedral Quarter Trust, representing hospitality, business and arts organisations which have invested in the area, describes the building as "an important part of the Cathedral Quarter's social and economic history".
In a letter to Planning Service last month, the trust said the proposed new seven-storey building would "seriously compromise the look and feel" of the Cathedral Quarter and that the existing building could be put to other uses.
It added: "The proposed building is not in sympathy with the character of the area in terms of materials, form and scale and would harm the setting of the listed buildings, particularly the Merchant Hotel.
"In place of hasty and possibly ill-considered demolition of the historic Nambarrie building, we ask that alternative uses be fully explored in line with established policy."
The trust will now meet Planning Service to express its views.
Alan Fraser said the applications had been considered "for a lengthy period" and that approval was given by DoE after taking objections into account.
"These applications came before Belfast City Council on September 5 and were deferred.
"Enquiries are being made as to the basis of, and reasons for, the deferral which further delays the commencement of development, which will bring about investment in the city centre and much-needed construction jobs."
An earlier report on the company's plans by the conservation officer at Belfast Planning Office referred to coloured panels planned for the building, saying they would create "a visually egotistical piece of architecture" detracting from listed buildings opposite.
It concluded that the proposals would result in harm to the conservation area.
The Nambarrie building was built in 1959 to replace the company's old premises after they were bombed in the Blitz.
The tea was packaged there until 2008 when parent company Twinings moved operations to England, ending nearly 150 years of operation in Belfast.