A huge retail development in the centre of Belfast which could mean up to 3,000 new jobs has been given the green light today.
The Royal Exchange will be constructed in the rundown north-east quarter of the city, close to Royal Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares.
The scheme includes 50,000 square metres of new retail floorspace - almost half of which will be housed within a single "anchor store" - including cafes and bars, a 25-bedroom hotel, over 200 apartments, offices, a new cultural arts centre, car parking for 1,066 vehicles and new public spaces.
The mix of retail, arts and leisure facilities will create a new vibrant environment beyond normal shopping hours and further establish Northern Ireland's capital as a major European regional city, attracting more visitors as well as increasing and developing the evening economy and city centre living, according to the environment minister Alex Attwood, who granted the planning application.
Royal Exchange will be the third major shopping development to be built in the city centre.
The development will mean the demolition of a number of existing buildings as well as work to restore some of Belfast's oldest listed buildings and facades.
Mr Atwood said: "The proposal aims to create a new environment in the city and revitalise an area of Belfast that has been without meaningful development for a number of years.
"It is estimated that it will bring 3,000 much needed jobs - 1,000 for the construction phase and 2,000 jobs in retail and leisure once completed.
"I am very conscious that there is a need to protect the historic fabric of the city and this I have balanced carefully alongside the wider strategic benefits of the proposed scheme.
"The economic, physical and social benefits will impact positively on many people's lives whilst sympathetically rejuvenating the historic centre of Belfast. I am convinced that we can redevelop our heritage and create many more jobs in a way that cherishes and protects our environment."