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Fears over proposal to turn Belfast's Ewarts Linen Warehouse into offices

By Rebecca Black

Published 25/11/2015

Imposing: The Bedford Street building
Imposing: The Bedford Street building
An artist’s impression of the rear of the planned development

A former linen warehouse is to be transformed into a 21st century office development.

The front of the listed Ewarts Linen Warehouse will remain the same, acting as a testament to Belfast's manufacturing past, while the back will reflect the modern city.

The four-storey sandstone building, which as lain empty for two decades, was designed by James Hamilton, also the architect of the Waring Street Ulster Bank, now the Merchant Hotel.

The warehouse was completed in 1869 and extended twice - in 1883 and then in 1937.

The Ewarts were a wealthy merchant family.

Historian Jonathan Bardon has described the structure as "confidently expressing what was at that time Belfast's world dominance in the linen trade".

Linen was one of the catalysts that allowed the-then small settlement to grow from a town into Ulster's pre-eminent city.

It grew most rapidly during the 1860s, and by the end of the 19th century Belfast was the linen capital of the world.

Ewarts Linen Warehouse was once surrounded by taller red brick warehouses and weaving sheds to the rear, but these were demolished in 1990.

The building has been on the at-risk register since 2003.

A plan to restore and convert it into a hotel was approved in 2008 but never came to fruition.

Now Bedford Street Properties - a joint venture between McAleer & Rushe and Ewart Properties - is proposing alteration, refurbishment and extension of the building to provide grade A office accommodation with basement car parking.

The building is part of the wider Bedford Square development, which includes Invest NI's headquarters.

An office tower block is also planned by McAleer & Rushe in the second phase of the development.

However, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) has expressed concern about how the building will be treated.

Although the front facade will be retained, sections of the structure inside this preserved front may have to be demolished for the new development.

The UAHS has lodged an objection to the planning proposal, claiming the planned new build behind the remnant facade "appears unsympathetic to remaining characteristics in design, form, materials, techniques and detailing".

It has also expressed concern it may have a "negative impact on the wider Linen Conservation Area".

The plan is to be considered by Belfast City Council's planning committee next month.

The UAHS has urged councillors to reject the application and ask the applicant to "investigate alternative, heritage-led solutions for the retention, extension and alteration of this Grade B+ listed building".

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