Revamp 'will rip heart out of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter'
Belfast traders have said a proposed regeneration of the Cathedral Quarter could "rip the heart out" of the area and its nearby commercial district.
The businesspeople were voicing their objections to the Royal Exchange project, which could see the creation of a 12-acre mixed-use development north east of City Hall incorporating retail, leisure, residential and office space.
The part of the city affected includes part of Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street, Lower Garfield Street and High Street.
A group of independent businesses, arts organisations and members of the community formed the #SaveCQ campaign and called on developers Castlebrooke Investments to "develop, not demolish" the district.
Chair of the #SaveCQ campaign Rebekah McCabe said the development could "potentially be quite harmful" for the Cathedral Quarter.
"Our two biggest objections are to the demolition of so many buildings in a conservation area, and the fact that the development doesn't leave any space for arts and cultural activities that the Cathedral Quarter has been supporting for the last 10 to 15 years," the campaigner explained.
"I also think that this could be detrimental to the character of the Cathedral Quarter, which comes from the small businesses, graffiti and arts organisations.
"This is risking the corporate sanitisation of the city centre and could effectively privatise parts of the Cathedral Quarter."
Jenn Rea, the co-owner of North Street art supply business Ink Monkey, said small independent traders would be forced out of the district if the development went ahead.
"This has always been an independent business area and one of the main places of culture in the city centre," she stressed.
"It's hard enough to be a start up a business, many of which can't afford the higher rates.
"It's not the case that you can move the community, the businesses and the organisations to anywhere else and it will be the same.
"It would rip out the heart of the Cathedral Quarter."
However, Richard Mackey, the director of Mackey Opticians, said he backed the proposal.
"I think the area needs to be redeveloped to get rid of the graffiti, clean it up and improve occupancy and footfall," he explained.
"I'm all for keeping independence and community, but you're still allowed to be quirky in new buildings."
A spokesperson for Castlebrooke Developments said people were welcome to submit their views to a consultation.
They added: "The pre-application consultation process remains open. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the plans further."