Belfast Telegraph

Buyers of Royal Exchange to get £360m project under way

By John Mulgrew

Belfast's Royal Exchange development has been bought by a UK investment fund which could see work finally begin on the long-delayed £360m project.

New owners Castebrooke Investments said it is now "formulating plans for a mixed-use development" and is working with Belfast City Council on the scheme.

Plans for the city centre development have been under way for five years. Many of the buildings stretch around Royal Avenue and into the Cathedral Quarter.

The redevelopment was due to include cafes, bars, restaurants, leisure facilities, apartments and offices, along with a huge retail space. Around £360m had been put aside to transform the 12-acre site. The sale price of the site was not disclosed.

A planning application was also approved by the Department of the Environment over four years ago.

In November last year the Department for Social Development (DSD) revealed it had terminated a deal with property development company Leaside Investments to proceed with the scheme.

It was hoped that Royal Exchange would become a shopping village able to compete with Victoria Square, with hopes John Lewis could be attracted to the spot.

Castebrooke Investments has said it will be working closely with Belfast City Council to develop the vast city centre area.

And a spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said it "welcomes the news that Royal Exchange has a new owner".

"We understand a revised project is being drawn up for this key city centre site and we hope to see some proposals come forward by early summer.

"There has never been a better time to invest in Belfast and the council is keen to work in partnership and provide support and assistance with investors who want to play a part in the development of our city centre and deliver jobs and economic benefits."

The area is located in and around Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street, Garfield Street and High Street.

It's believed some of the loans relating to the Royal Exchange scheme had been owned by Cerberus, the US vulture fund which purchased Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio in 2014.

An original plan for Royal Exchange had been drawn up by the William Ewart group.

When the latest joint venture between DSD and Leaside Investments ended, a spokesman for the department said it "gave careful consideration before terminating the agreement with Leaside".

The development of Royal Exchange is one of the latest big joint ventures of Belfast City Council, working alongside the private sector.

Some of the projects which are under way include the North Foreshore, which is being turned into an environmental business park known as Giant's Park.

And just last week, the historic 16-acre Sirocco site in east Belfast, which was to be transformed in a £600m investment, was sold.

Belfast City Council is aiming to attract £1bn of investment with joint projects for the city.

Last week it announced it's taking a public and private sector trade mission to MIPIM - one of the world's biggest property expos, taking place in France - in a bid to attract major investors here.

Belfast Telegraph