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The owners of the iconic Belfast Wheel are warning they may be forced to relocate it to Dublin if a row over its prime location beside City Hall is not resolved, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
Operator World Tourist Attractions said it may have to remove the 60 metre structure from the grounds of Belfast City Hall if another lease extension is not granted this summer.
The wheel arrived in October 2007 and was originally only licensed until New Year’s Eve the following year. However, it was given a nine-month extension when planners overruled objections from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. That extension is due to expire in August and so the wheel operators have teamed up with city centre traders for a campaign to keep it at City Hall.
The popular tourist attraction has become a recognised part of the Belfast skyline.
Nigel Ward from World Tourist Attractions said: “We have been assessing several sites in the city for a number of months — however they do not meet our stringent criteria for an attraction of this kind.”
“We have been delighted and encouraged with the amount of support shown for the wheel from local people and visitors alike.”
The company, which has wheels all over the world, says Belfast is among its most successful operations and given the current economic climate claims a move from its current prime site location could spell financial disaster.
Mr Ward said: “The Environment Agency has opposed an extension of terms for the wheel to remain at City Hall, claiming it is a permanent structure and contrary to planning regulations. We feel that this is simply not the case, as underlined by its unique design.”
He said the wheel is fully transportable and can be removed in a week if necessary.
“We are also currently in discussions about a potential wheel site in Dublin, which could be the new home for the Belfast wheel if a suitable location cannot be found,” he added.
The Environment Agency had argued that the wheel should be relocated elsewhere in Belfast to ensure it did not become a permanent fixture beside what is a grade one listed building.
Belfast City Centre Management and The Chamber of Trade and Commerce have both called for the Government to intervene to retain the wheel at its current location.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment said any new application for an extension of the Belfast Wheel would be dealt with at the time.