Belfast Telegraph

Developer opens doors to Belfast's £16m student living complex at College Square East

By Michelle Smyth

Major plans to turn a listed building that once housed Belfast Metropolitan College into student accommodation have been put on public display.

The idea is to reassure the public that much of the historical and architectural significance of the building will be retained, and the character and integrity of the area maintained.

An exhibition was set up in one of the rooms of the historical building on College Square East yesterday so that the public could find out more about the project before the plans are submitted for approval at the end of August.

Belfast Metropolitan College sold the Edwardian building in 2011 when it moved to a new campus in the Titanic Quarter.

It was bought over by Welsh property firm Watkin Jones which aims to address the lack of student accommodation in Belfast – particularly with the building of University of Ulster's future city centre campus – through its £16m construction project.

The exhibition revealed preliminary architect plans, the background of the grade B+ listed building, arguments for the provision of new student accommodation in the city centre and details of how it will be managed.

The plans include the conversion and extension of the building which is listed within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area.

Watkin Jones will submit plans at the end of August to turn it into student accommodation that will include 425 en suite bedrooms, with communal kitchen and living areas.

The accommodation will be managed by Fresh Student Living, and available to rent by local and overseas students.

A separate conservation plan is being prepared which will be submitted with the planning application.

Conor Hughes from Turley planning consultants said much of the sigificant fabric of the building will be kept including the grand staircase, the central hall and the library.

"The purpose of today is to let people know what we are planning, answer any questions and hear their thoughts on it.

"It is a positive thing that this building is going to be brought back into use. It is unusual for a developer to carry out a public engagement exercise prior to plans being submitted. It is a proactive step.

"We have had a lot of positive feedback here today from the Belfast Civic Trust and from people generally interested in the building and its future," he said.

Residents living near the building attended a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the project. Some voiced concerns the area would fall victim to anti-social behaviour like that which has plagued the Holylands area of south Belfast.

The developer said measures had been put in place to avoid this, such as an on-site management team which will be supported by senior student wardens and overnight staff.

Noise will be monitored and CCTV will be installed throughout the building.

However, while there will be a dedicated space to park bicycles, there won't be a car park.

One exhibition stand stated that Fresh Student Living undertakes "car-free student accommodation within the majority of its schemes".

Liam Devlin, who attended the exhibition, said the plans seemed "positive".

"If this is managed correctly it could be great for this city in terms of excellent student accommodation."

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Watkin Jones chairman, Glyn Watkin Jones, said his company had been monitoring the student housing situation in Belfast for five years.

"We are aware of the under-supply of purpose-built accommodation in the city and the ongoing issues in the Holylands.

"With the new University of Ulster campus under way, Queen's and Belfast Met continuing to grow, along with Belfast attracting significant investment, we see this as an ideal time to enter the Belfast market."

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