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Public left bemused as 'architectural eyesore' ruins view of Waterfront Hall

By Claire McNeilly

Published 19/08/2015

Belfast's Waterfront Hall: The view today
Belfast's Waterfront Hall: The view today
The view before: The popular concert and conference venue opened nearly 20 years ago and is currently undergoing a £30m extension

It has already been branded The Box on the Docks.

It has also wiped out one of the most impressive views in Belfast - the Waterfront Hall.

A new £30m conference centre construction on the River Lagan has sparked anger, with some detractors labelling it "cultural vandalism".

Work began on the new building last October and is due to be completed in December, although the extension won't officially open for business until May 2016.

As construction work continues, more and more people have taken to social media to express their disapproval at how it looks.

There was also a barrage of criticism after two 'before' and 'after' pictures of how the building is progressing appeared on the Slugger O'Toole website earlier this week.

Zig70 said: "The planners should be lashed. It's an eyesore," while Mister_Joe said: "Looks like a trailer."

Listeners also contacted the BBC Nolan show yesterday to air their views on the new conference facility.

One person said: "This is brutal, it's like a school building," while another tweeted: "Like a floating trailer park".

Various suggestions over its name also began to appear on Twitter, including the "Portakabin on the Lagan", "The Belfast Box or the Shoebox on the Water", "The Waterfront Wall" and the "Sore on the Shore".

Journalist and commentator Malachi O'Doherty told the Radio Ulster show it was like "a mobile home".

"I said so at the time when it was announced they were doing this," he said.

"The plan appeared to be to build a box around the Waterfront Hall, I think the Waterfront Hall as it was is a beautiful building, an embellishment, an ornament of Belfast and the riverside.

"I think it's an absolute atrocity to conceal that, but to conceal it with something that looks like a mobile home. There is no elegance or charm or beauty about it at all. What were these people thinking?"

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said the original Waterfront Hall cost £32m to build.

The council contributed £21.5m while the remaining funding was provided by the Urban Development Grant Scheme (£6.5m) and the European Regional Development Fund (£4m).

Former Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers told the Belfast Telegraph that the extra £30m being spent on an extension will provide a state-of-the-art facility for Northern Ireland.

"We have found that a lot of conferences haven't come to Belfast over the years because our exhibition space wasn't big enough," he said.

"We've been lagging behind other venues which is why we took this decision to build an extension.

"The Waterfront Hall is going to be refurbished and we'll also have this extension which will help us compete with other cities across the world."

The UUP councillor also said he believed that many of the building's critics will be "impressed" when they see the finished article - but acknowledged that some may see it as an eyesore.

"It will grow on people - and when visitors see its interior, they will be impressed," he said.

"It's not an eyesore. No matter what public representatives try to do to improve things we're always criticised. People can be very harsh.

"My message is wait and see. We are building something that will have long-lasting, positive economic benefits for Northern Ireland as a whole."

The council is providing £11m towards the extension, DETI's European Regional Development Fund is pitching in £14.5m, while £4m is coming from the Tourist Board.

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