Harbour chiefs deliberately holding up redevelopment projects, High Court is told
Belfast Harbour Commissioners tried to put up "roadblocks" to new developments on the city's waterfront area, the High Court heard yesterday.
A judge was told potential land deals had been hit by delays due to a dispute over an agreement for the 185-acre site's multimillion-pound regeneration.
The claims were made at the start of a legal battle between the Commissioners, who own the land, and its developer tenants Titanic Quarter Ltd, both of whom have worked together for more than a decade to deliver a range of major projects.
Schemes for which planning permission has been granted include office blocks and a new four-star boutique hotel.
But they are on hold due to a dispute over the interpretation of a 2004 master agreement.
With suggested mediation having failed to materialise, the Commissioners issued proceedings to clarify the terms of a contract that runs until 2030.
As a planned three-day hearing got under way, the court heard claims that Titanic Quarter Ltd wanted to be able to take projects to its landlord as a "fait accompli". But Stephen Shaw QC, for the Commissioners, said they should not have to approve projects deemed inappropriate.
"We are obliged to look at it in good faith, but we don't have to justify our refusal," he added.
Mr Shaw argued that the defendants were trying to take that limited onus and "magic that into an overarching obligation on us in all these arrangements".
However, Michael Humphries QC, representing Titanic Quarter, insisted the agreement was not couched in veto language.
"If you refuse, you must refuse it in good faith - you can't refuse it for bad reasons or to pursue ulterior motives," he said.
According to Mr Humphries, developments are on hold until a ruling is made on questions posed by the Commissioners about the master agreement.
"That has led to delay and stalemate," he said. "The parties should now move forward, rather than put up roadblocks, as the Commissioners have tried to do."
The allegation was refuted by his opposite number, who said: "I reject the suggestion we have put up roadblocks."
Lord Justice Girvan urged both sides to hold discussions to avoid lengthy proceedings.
The case continues.