Belfast Telegraph

£117k spent on consultancy and legal fees for scrapped Northside project

By John Mulgrew

Stormont forked out almost £120,000 on fees supporting plans for a massive £300m development in Belfast that it has now withdrawn support for, it can be revealed.

The Northside Regeneration body, alongside the Department for Social Development (DSD), was planning a mixed-use development near Royal Avenue that would have included housing and retail and leisure facilities.

But in April it was revealed that DSD, now the Department for Communities, had pulled out.

It said that developers "should no longer benefit from the potential use of the department's statutory powers".

It can now be revealed the department spent around £117,000 in relation to the Northside regeneration project.

That included £76,000 on "professional consultancy in relation to commercial and planning matters", and a further £41,400 on legal fees.

The spending breakdown was released under a Freedom of Information request.

In April, a spokeswoman for Northside said it was disappointed at the then-DSD Minister Lord Morrow's decision and added it had "invested financial resources, time and expertise in this project and continued to be committed to its delivery".

Northside Regeneration is a consortium chosen by DSD. It includes global building firm Balfour Beatty and property developer Kevin McKay.

In a letter sent to those affected by the scheme, the then-DSD said the minister "recently confirmed that we were undertaking an assessment of the scheme, and we are writing to you now to confirm the outcome of this assessment".

It added that as part of that it took the "views of local stakeholders into account, as well areas including where the developer had not met requirements set by the department".

"The minister has decided that the scheme, as proposed by Northside Regeneration Limited, should no longer benefit from the use of his department's statutory powers," the letter read.

The apparent end to the scheme in its current form means popular Belfast pub The Sunflower is likely to be saved from demolition.

The bar was within the area proposed under the Northside scheme, and could have been demolished to make way for the development.

The lack of support from Stormont means if the developer wants to continue with the project, it will no longer have Government backing and powers.

With Stormont pulling out, one expert said it will be "very hard to bring it together" without the support of the State.

The scheme hit its first roadblock in January, when it was refused outline planning permission.

Belfast Telegraph