Belfast Telegraph

Athletic Stores Victorian landmark 'not worth saving from demolition'

By Patrice Dougan

The man behind the proposed demolition of a landmark 19th century building in Belfast city centre has defended his plans saying he is "not a property developer" in it for the money.

The former linen mill on Queen Street, which houses the Athletic Stores sports shop, was recommended for demolition to be replaced by a retail and apartment block last week.

It is a controversial proposal and has been the source of complaints by heritage campaigners for years. They say it will set a dangerous precedent for destroying old buildings with architectural merit.

In a letter sent to the Belfast Telegraph, Philip Blakely of Carlisle Property Developments Ltd, defended his plans, saying the building is not suitable for refurbishment and its architectural merit has been exaggerated. He said that he has been in the retail business for 50 years, and is "not a property developer choosing between levels of profit".

"The building has been adjudged incapable of being repaired economically by several independent engineering reports," he said.

"The cost of retaining the building and refurbishing it to a marketable standard is professionally estimated to be over £4m. The finished building would be worth around £1.7m. On those sums no financial institution is going to advance the necessary funding to me or anyone else to refurbish.

"However, a complete rebuild will cost £7m and create a building worth around £10m and is therefore likely to attract funding."

He argues that other "architecturally regarded buildings" which were refurbished, such as the Gasworks, were done so through public money or during "a time when banks were flush with money and the market for commercial and residential property was booming".

This is not now the case, he says, and banks are "extremely diligent" in assessing commercial viability.

He goes on to say the architectural merit of the Athletic Stores building has been "greatly exaggerated" by objectors, pointing out that it is not listed and was not designed by a well-known firm.

His stance is not likely to appease heritage campaigners who have railed against the development for years.

The original application - to transform the site into a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, street level shops and basement parking facilities - met stiff opposition.

A new application reducing the building to seven storeys with 58 apartments has now been approved by planners.

A final decision will be made in a fortnight.

Story so far

Campaigners have reacted with dismay to the Planning Service's verdict on an application to redevelop the building on Queen Street.

A decision on the application was deferred at Belfast City Council. Carlisle Property Developments Ltd originally applied to transform the site into a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, shops and parking facilities.

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