Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Belfast's iconic big wheel to close

Aerial Photography from around the Greater Belfast and Belfast Lough area. Belfast City Hall and Big Wheel.
Onlookers look on as a man climbs to the top of Belfast's Big Wheel
The Belfast Wheel lit up at Belfast City Hall.

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Belfast's Big Wheel —which has dominated the city's skyline for almost two years — is to close next month.

The massive 60m structure, which has sparked controversy over its location, will stop spinning beside the City Hall on April 11.

A planning application had been lodged by Great City Attractions, the company that owns the wheel, to stay in Belfast until next summer.

The DoE said the application remains under consideration. But Great City Attractions has made the decision to remove the wheel from the city.

Lord Mayor of Belfast Naomi Long said it had been “a real asset” for the city, adding that its loss will be a blow for tourism.

“I think a lot of people will miss it,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“It was loved as much as it was hated — a lot of people find it difficult to picture City Hall without the wheel beside it.

“It has been a major asset to us, particularly when City Hall was closed and you had visitors arriving with nowhere to go.

“Certainly we are aware that they (Great City Attractions) have made the decision not to have the wheel at City Hall.

>>Video: Gary Grattan brings his vertigo on the Big Wheel>>

“But it is not entirely clear the reasons, but I do not think it is just simply a planning decision. But we are pursuing other events and other things that can happen to boost the city in a positive way.

“I think there will be people sad to see it go because it marked our arrival on the stage as a major tourist destination.”

The wheel’s arrival in 2007 sparked controversy among some organisations. Titanic enthusiasts called for the dismantling of the wheel as it overshadowed a memorial to the 1912 disaster within the City Hall grounds.

Una Reilly, from the Belfast |Titanic Society, said: “It is with great relief, and no little pleasure, to learn that the Big Wheel was to move from its current location astride the Titanic Memorial at Belfast City Hall.

“The society never had a problem with a Belfast Wheel, just its inappropriate location.”

The wheel — which has 42 gondolas — had originally been scheduled to stay for just six months. But due to its popularity extended its stay and is now seen as an iconic part of the city skyline.

The Environment Agency had objected as it wanted to ensure it did not become a permanent feature beside a listed building.

There has been speculation of it moving to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter but there is no indication about further developments.

Michael Williamson, director of Tourism Consulting at ASM Horwath, told the BBC: “I think it is probably best served at another location at a point in time but probably for the operators’ point of view it needs to have a constant footflow all day long to make some money at it.

“If it goes down to a river location, perhaps that is better for example when the Titanic Signature Project is there and we have a constant draw of people all day long.”

No one from Great City Attractions was available for comment when contacted.

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