Belfast Telegraph

Planning issues remain but George Best Hotel in Belfast could open in February, insists developer

Developer Lawrence Kenwright outside the proposed George Best Hotel in Belfast
Developer Lawrence Kenwright outside the proposed George Best Hotel in Belfast

By John Mulgrew

A long-delayed George Best-themed hotel in Belfast - which has already let staff go amid setbacks - could open in February next year but planning issues still remain, its owner has said.

Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright has spent a total of £10.5m so far on turning the Scottish Mutual Building on Bedford Street into the George Best Hotel.

But work stopped on the scheme last year amid a probe over concerns over "unauthorised works" at the listed building.

Mr Kenwright told the Belfast Telegraph he "hopes" it could open by February as final planning issues are resolved, and says he may hold on to the Crumlin Road courthouse - currently up for sale - to develop into a new hotel, while his War Memorial Building - also the site of a proposed hotel - is now under offer, he says.

Mr Kenwright says there remains two planning issues between him and the council.

He says that includes issues with mouldings between walls and ceilings and a technical disagreement over fire burn time between floors.

Last summer, Mr Kenwright let a team of staff go at the hotel after the opening date had been pushed back further and further.

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In November last year, Belfast City Council revealed that it has opened an enforcement investigation in relation to the building.

It came after the Department for Communities' Historic Environment Division (HED) raised concerns over "unauthorised works" at the high-profile development.

Asked will it ever open, he said: "I hope so ... we have invested £6.5m (in the building) and £4m so far - we are £10.5m in.

"We have to get this building open. I believe the council wants us to get this building open.

"We had a slight disagreement with the council planning process. We had to stop work and that is what we have done. There were a couple of things we wanted to rectify.

"(When) that is done, back on site, and hope (to open) in February 2020. The furniture is ready to go, but we need full sign-off before we can get a licence."

As for hiring staff, he said: "We will go back and try and take them back on again.

"I have a cluster of staff who came over from Liverpool, including a manager and booking teams."

Speaking about the council, he said: "They are the bosses. I can have disagreement, and deal with that, but it's their end say.

"We are now just down to two points and I don't see them as showstoppers."

While both the Crumlin Road courthouse and War Memorial Building were put on sale - originally due to be two new hotels by his firm Signature Living -Mr Kenwright says he may keep the former, and proceed with work.

On keeping ownership of the Crumlin Road courthouse, he said: "We are probably going to keep it. I'm hoping we deal with the situation, and move out in a positive light.

"The idea is, get the George Best open and don't give ourselves more issues to deal with.

"Once open, concentrate solely on the Crum - it's four or five times harder than the George Best."

Belfast Telegraph