Royal Exchange: A chance to project confidence during uncertain times
This proposal should be welcomed as a significant opportunity to invest in the city centre and aid regeneration at a time of uncertainty.
It is likely that this scheme has been submitted due to the expiration of the 2012 planning consent earlier this month, and that the new local development plan process has begun.
Despite the lack of an Executive and Brexit continuing to loom, development continues at pace, with 31 tower cranes witnessed over Belfast city during the summer.
This is down to the strategic need for grade A office floorspace in the city centre, along with the redevelopment of the Ulster University campus and managed student accommodation.
The flexibility of floorspace is critical to attract a variety of tenants and provide flexible floorplates for their needs both in retail and office uses in the city. The most controversial element of the proposal will be Block 9, which seeks a tower comprising two elements of up to 84m and 93m in height, equating to 24 and 27 storeys, at the corner of Rosemary Street and Bridge Street.
To place the height in context, the Obel Tower at Donegall Quay is 28 storeys, although in a very different built environment.
The thinking behind the tower element is that it will act as a marker at this historic junction - and will 'announce' the scheme as well as the regenerated former Royal Exchange site.
The skyline is an important consideration of a city's identity and often provides the first visual impression of how its economy and growth are performing, as tall buildings indicate a demand for space and a desire to be located in the city centre.
The pursuit of such an iconic building must not be at the expense of key vistas, should not inhibit historic buildings or visually detract from the historic fabric of the city.
The council's preferred options paper included an option promoting tall buildings to act as a catalyst for regeneration, but no criteria have been drawn up for assessing tall buildings and their impacts. It is hoped that through the consultation the proposal will be assessed in the context of this historic part of the city.
- Andy Stephens is a planner at Matrix Planning