Belfast Telegraph

Never Monday: Top developer opens door on new era of living in city

You won't have to commute to work any more, thanks to an ambitious plan to build minimalist apartments in the centre of Belfast

By Margaret Canning

A developer with one of the most recognisable names in house building wants to bring Belfast apartment living into a new era.

Alan Fraser of Village Homes Ltd hopes his concept of a studio-style apartment - where the sleeping quarters are contained in an alcove, furnishings and extras like two plasma screens are supplied and no space is wasted - will take off.

His Never Monday concept, based on the idea that you don't have to commute to work because you already live in the city centre, is starting off with what will become The M Building on Montgomery Street, a 14-storey development of 48 living units.

It's thought he has invested around £3m in the project.

Never Monday mimics the New York style of city living we've seen on TV and movies, with a communal laundry, coffee shop, gym rooftop garden and bike-sharing facilities.

Units of around 380 square foot in the M Building are being marketed for sale though BTW Cairns from this week with prices starting at £79,950.

Potential buyers can see how the minimalist approach would work by visiting a 'pop-up' pod apartment in Victoria House, Gloucester Street showing what the finished product will look like.

"Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head... then crossed the road and went into my office."

Of course, the Beatles' song A Day in the Life described the protagonist making the bus in seconds flat though no buses will be required if you buy one of Mr Fraser's new creations.

Village Homes Ltd bought the vacant building and site at Montgomery Street for £1.1m in November 2009 and last year submitted a planning application for permission to build up to 50 apartments.

Alan Fraser's father Fred built thousands of affordable starter homes in areas like Carryduff and Dundonald. Now his son, who has been developing property abroad - particularly Florida - wants to similarly change the face of city dwelling in Belfast.

"As a progressive company with many years of experience in international property development we have seen how similar apartments work right across the world," the developer said.

"We are convinced that Belfast is ready for something which we feel is progressive and part of our future.

"Everything is included so that all the new buyer has to do is move in," he said.

The existing building is to be demolished soon and building is expected to be completed in 15 months' time, bringing around 100 construction jobs to a city which has seen little building work over the last few years.

A publicity blitz began yesterday with models wearing dressing gowns dashing around the city centre to demonstrate how living there earns you the convenience of falling out of bed and into the office.

Village Homes is also expected to extend the concept to developments at Queen's Square and the old Nambarrie warehouse in Waring Street.

These are both the subject of planning applications to build a total of 121 apartments.

But a multitude of High Court cases revolving around the plummeting prices of chic apartments in Belfast city centre - including Titanic Quarter, College Court Central and James Clow - have earned apartment living negative headlines since property prices began their downward spiral four years ago.

The 48 Montgomery Street apartments are being marketed off-plan - though that process was stigmatised by would-be buyers buying off-plan at the peak of the market in 2007, only to be unable to complete on purchases because of lack of mortgage finance once the buildings were finished from 2009 on.

This has resulted in scores of individuals being brought to court by developers, with most cases being decided in favour of the latter.

That has left people forfeiting their deposits, then having to pay damages and legal costs.

But the Never Monday team have said that contracts to buy the apartments will be conditional upon finance being obtained.

The team also argue that the availability of the 'pod' for viewing is showing what a buyer will get if they commit to the Never Monday concept.

In addition, they cite a "major lender" which cannot be named but has indicated it could lend up to 90% of the value of properties, a deal which at current available rates could result in monthly repayments over a 25-year term of £332 per month.

And while there are one-bedroomed apartments for sale in other parts of the city for under £79,950 - such Strand Central off Belmont Road where one beds cost £55,000 - Never Monday believes the location, price and finish of their product is superior.

The compact nature of the apartments should be a selling point rather than a disadvantage, according to Mr Fraser.

"What you are buying here is a lifestyle and the reason we designed the 'pop-up' pod is so that people can see first-hand how the special engineering involved at the design stage has created an apartment that is big on space while compact in overall size.

"All of the utilities are hidden to liberate space and physically there is a freedom of movement while visually there are unhindered views in every direction.

"Modern lifestyle demands have changed considerably and people now want comfort and convenience which Never Monday offers them along with a touch of luxury living."

BTW Cairns has also been agents for many other apartment blocks in the city centre. Simon Brien, the agency's director, said: "Undoubtedly the Never Monday development is something radically different to anything we have seen before.

"This is due to the combination of highly affordable pricing combined with high quality architectural design in what will become one of Belfast's new contemporary buildings.

"Without doubt, this combination will make Never Monday unique to Belfast and with the most important criteria to home buyers in today's market being value, we are most excited about the launch and confident of the appeal to buyers and success of the scheme."

They will be hoping the business community will be interested in the scheme with the possibility of international companies setting up in the city viewing a development such as the M Building as a more affordable alternative than hotels for visiting staff.

Apartments in the Titanic Quarter and Custom House Square have been occupied by crew and cast working on HBO's Game of Thrones series, which is being filmed in Northern Ireland.

Mark Finlay, chairman of economic strategy at the South Belfast Partnership Board, said: "This unique living concept is perfect for the people being attracted to the city from far and wide to work for the many international technology, professional and financial services companies clustering between City Hall and the Waterfront.

"The business community has been swelled by companies like Allen -amp; Overy, NYSE Euronext and Herbert Smith joining the likes of All State, Liberty Mutual and Fujitsu," said Mr Finlay.

"I am aware of at least three major US investors currently considering adding to this roster.

"Top employers need to attract the best employees, with both a great living environment and working environment.

"Convenience, amenities and vibrancy are the key.

"Never Monday adds to an already attractive mix."

Never Monday team hope prime location and a 'reasonable price' will help sell 'pods'

The team behind Never Monday's development of 48 studio apartments in Belfast's Montgomery Street say the price, location and finish of their product make it stand out from others on the market, along with the fact that each apartment will be almost fully kitted out. Plans for the building were drawn up by Belfast architects Povall Worthington and furnishings in the pod 'pop-up' apartment were created by Terry Furniture in Portadown with an eye to making the most of the available space.

The style is reminiscent of the tradition of Japanese shataku, apartment buildings which are owned by companies or leased out by them for housing their young workers. A similar concept in turnkey apartments has been developed by the Deramore Group at the top of the Lisburn Road's Ulsterville Avenue. 117 Lisburn Road has 3 one-bed apartments of up to 500 sq ft of which 12 have already been sold for £89,000 to £105,000.

The city centre, meanwhile, has seen an explosion of new developments in the last five years. One-bed apartments in St Anne's Square are selling for around £120,000. But mortgage companies are still nervous about lending on new-build apartments and in many cases seek deposits of around 20%.

According to the University of Ulster House Price Survey, average apartment prices in Northern Ireland have fallen by around 40% from £196,506 in August 27 to £116,956 four years later.

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

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