Belfast Telegraph

Huge £300m redevelopment of north Belfast hits rocks after Stormont pulls out

Sunflower Pub has been saved from demolition

By John Mulgrew

A massive £300m plan to redevelop north Belfast now appears to be dead in the water after Stormont pulled its backing.

Northside Regeneration, alongside the Department for Social Development (DSD), was planning a so-called "mixed use" development near Royal Avenue to include housing, retail, leisure and student accommodation.

But it can be revealed DSD has pulled out, saying developers "should no longer benefit from the potential use of the department's statutory powers".

It comes after the scheme hit a roadblock in January when it was refused outline planning permission.

A spokeswoman for Northside said it was disappointed at Social Development Minister Lord Morrow's decision and said it had "invested significant financial resources, time and expertise in this project and continue to be committed to its delivery".

"We have written to the minister urging him to have a meeting so that the £300m investment in the city and the thousands of jobs this will bring is not lost to hurdles we believe can be overcome," it added.

The project hit the headlines last year after it was revealed the popular Sunflower pub (above) could be demolished as part of the plans.

In a letter sent to those affected by the scheme yesterday, the DSD said the minister "recently confirmed that we were undertaking an assessment of the scheme and I am writing to you now to confirm the outcome of this assessment". It says as part of that it took the "views of local stakeholders into account as well as a number of 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 potential use of his department's statutory powers."

On Wednesday the Sunflower Pub announced that the campaign to save it had won.

Announcing the news on its Facebook page it thanked those who had supported it.

Owner Pedro Donald told the Belfast Telegraph: "It's wonderful news. We are absolutely delighted. People have been asking me a lot over the past few months what's the latest, and it had all gone very quiet.

"But then out of the blue this came yesterday and it's ubelievable.

"People think, is it worth signing a petition, or going on a rally but yes it is. One signature isn't going to change the world, but collectively - we lobbied councillors, MLAs, the media were great, the petition -  all those put together does make a difference.

"If we did nothing we would have been knocked down I think. So it is worth fighting things."

Looking to the future Pedro said he is not against the redevelopment of the area.

"I've never been against redevelopment of the area, we are all for it, but there is no reason why it can't be done and keep the exisitng. It doesn't need to clear the whole site and start from scratch."

Now they are planning how they will celebrate and thank those who supported them.

"Now that that weight isn't hanging over us anymore, we were thinking is it even worth painting the place. Now we can start thinking let's look to the future and evolve and develop.

"Even all the staff it's a weight off their shoulders as well."

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

Planners acting for Belfast's Smithfield and Union Quarter - which would be impacted significantly by the proposed development - had written to Lord Morrow. With Stormont pulling out, one planning expert said it will be "very hard to bring it together" without the support of DSD.

It means if the developer wants to continue with the project, it will no longer have Government backing and powers.

Andy Stephens of Matrix Planning - which acted on behalf of the Smithfield and Union traders in an advisory capacity, told the Belfast Telegraph: "I'm pleased we have a conclusion, as this has gone on for a significant amount of time. DSD have made their position clear, but obviously we have to wait and see what comes."

In a previous letter from Lord Morrow last month, it says that when examining the "collaboration agreement with Northside Regeneration Limited" the department was taking into account a range of areas, including funding and viability.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.