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Students move into £16m digs in landmark Belfast building

By Cate McCurry

Published 16/09/2016

John Bell House - the first proposal for private student accommodation in Belfast.
John Bell House - the first proposal for private student accommodation in Belfast.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton with Anthony Best from Lacuna Developments at the official opening of John Bell House
In with new: student accommodation at John Bell House, which opens this weekend

The first of hundreds of students are set to move into Belfast's £16 million new-look student digs at a landmark building in the city centre this weekend.

The student residents will bring in an estimated £4.4m to the local economy every year, according to the developers, Watkin Jones.

The site of the former Belfast Metropolitan College is the first major private sector student accommodation in Northern Ireland.

Invited guests to the opening of the renamed John Bell House were given a grand tour of the renovated building and some of the 413 student rooms, made up of 291 bedrooms and 121 studios. It also features a management suite and both indoor and outdoor communal areas.

The four-piece Arco String Quartet played classical music in the iconic Great Hall which is now a communal area for the students.

Bold-coloured sofas are dotted throughout the hall next to a social area with board games, books and a TV all under the original windows and interior features of the Grade-two listed building.

Yesterday, a number of students armed with suitcases arrived to 'check in' to what will be their new home for the next academic year.

Some of the high-end 'gold-rated' student rooms will cost up to £660 per month while shared apartments or self-contained studios can cost around £500 per month.

John Bell House, named after the renowned and award-winning physicist who famously corrected Ein­stein with Bell's Theorem, was formerly known as Belfast Technical Institute where the scientist studied.

The five-storey property was officially opened yesterday by Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA.

The building at College Square East had been vacant since 2011 before the major redevelopment was proposed as a joint venture between local firm Lacuna Developments based in Holywood, and Welsh developers Watkin Jones.

Anthony Best, Director Lacuna Developments, said: "We were the first to introduce the concept of purpose built student accommodation to Belfast. Relative to other university cities of comparable size we identified a lack of quality managed accommodation. Outside of university owned accommodation there was little to no choice for students, other than HMO (Houses in Multiple Occupation) properties."

Glyn Watkin Jones, of Watkin Jones, a ninth generation construction company specialising in private student accommodation added: "John Bell House is the first of three projects by our joint venture that will total £40m construction investment."

The DUP Minister said it provides the "highest standard" of purpose built accommodation.

Mr Hamilton added: "The investment and restoration of John Bell House have returned an iconic building back to the city. With a mix of shared apartments and en-suite rooms, with kitchens and workspaces, there is something for all students."

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