Landmark Athletic Stores Victorian mill to be torn down for Belfast apartments
A landmark 19th century building in Belfast city centre has been recommended for demolition to be replaced by a retail and apartment block.
Heritage campaigners reacted with dismay to the Planning Service's verdict on a long-standing application to redevelop the building in Queen Street, which houses the Athletic Stores sports shop.
A decision on the application was deferred for a fortnight at Belfast City Council by Sinn Fein.
Carlisle Property Developments Ltd originally applied to transform the site into a nine-storey complex with 69 apartments, street level shops and basement parking facilities.
But the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) had challenged the decision by claiming Planning Service failed to consider the price of refurbishment work on a building located within the Belfast City Centre Conservation Area. It also argued the Department of Environment ignored the view of its own conservation officer who concluded that the loss of the warehouse and planned replacement would harm the area.
The developers submitted a new application, which reduced the building to seven storeys with plans for 58 apartments, and this has now been approved by planners. There have been 20 letters of support for the application and letters of objection.
Rita Harkin, UAHS research officer, criticised the decision and signalled the organisation could take it back to court.
"We're concerned and disappointed by the decision," she said.
"It's such an important case that there is a very real prospect of us having to take the department to court again.
"We should be re-using old buildings where we can. We are just amazed that they have reached this decision."
However, a spokesman for Carlisle Developments, which owns the building, said its architectural merit is "vastly exaggerated" and the only sensible approach is to demolish it.
"We are obviously disappointed that the decision has been deferred but we understand the council will want to give it further consideration," he said.
The Athletics Stores building, as it is generally known, was a former linen mill built in the 19th century.
It is one of the few warehouses remaining in Belfast city centre. Although it is not a listed building it is located in a designated conservation area.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society is concerned that its destruction could lead to developers demolishing other buildings in the area, particularly a neighbouring warehouse housing Queen Street Studio.