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Sunflower's future looking brighter as £300m plan refused

By John Mulgrew

A £300m project to redevelop part of Belfast city centre has hit a roadblock after it was refused outline planning permission.

The Northside Regeneration is planning to develop a so-called 'mixed use' scheme, close to Royal Avenue, which would include housing, retail, leisure and student accommodation.

But Belfast City Council has now recommended that the development be refused.

The project hit the headlines last year, after it was revealed that popular and award-winning bar The Sunflower could be knocked down as part of the plans.

A Save The Sunflower campaign was launched on social media, drawing support from thousands of fans of Pedro Donald's pub.

Other businesses in the area are also at risk.

Northside is a consortium chosen by the Department for Social Development (DSD), to develop the area which is bounded by North Street, Royal Avenue, Donegall Street and Millfield.

The consortium includes global building firm Balfour Beatty and property developer Kevin McKay.

The Sunflower's Pedro Donald told the Belfast Telegraph that while the refusal for outline planning was to be welcomed, "we are not resting on our laurels".

He said: "It's definitely more positive than negative. But we still don't have a definite answer.

"It certainly gives us more hope.

"The longer we kick it down the road, the better.

"Those big student blocks on York Street, by the time they get to us, there will be no need (for others).

"We are all in limbo, all the businesses are in the same boat. Do we invest? Do we give the business a lick of paint, is there any point?"

A Northside spokeswoman said it "remains fully committed to the development of the lands designated by the DSD for regeneration".

"Further to our submission of our outline planning application, the planning authorities requested supplementary information on environmental impacts.

"The extent and scope of the information requested required more time than was available within the deadline set.

"Regrettably this has resulted in our application being determined as deemed refused".

The consortium said it will be resubmitting its application, and "re-entering the planning application process".

"There have been concerns raised by a local councillor with Northside Regeneration Ltd regarding the Sunflower bar and the development team will enter discussions with the owner of the property, where the bar is located, as part of the planning process."

And the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, which has previously objected to the scheme, said: "Whilst the deemed refusal is welcome, it may not mean that unlisted historic buildings in the area are safe.

"They are not protected against demolition and it is likely that another scheme for the area will emerge in due course."

A spokesman for Belfast City Council said the "deemed refusal of the Northside Regeneration Ltd outline planning application on January 18, 2016" means Belfast City Council has no "comprehensive development" application for Northside to deal with at present, but that there are other planning applications which the council must determine within the Northside area.

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