Council delays approval as major retailer linked to disputed £400m plan in Belfast
A high-profile retailer is poised to take on a six-storey retail site as part of a controversial £400m redevelopment in Belfast city centre, it's been claimed.
But campaigners last night warned councillors and planners that the proposals for Royal Exchange would put the city's historical buildings "under threat" and move away from its long-term vision.
The first stage of the plan had been put forward for approval tomorrow night, but Belfast City Council's planning committee is deferring the decision until members carry out a site visit.
The Royal Exchange revamp of part of Belfast city centre could include a 27-storey high-rise building as part of the ambitious scheme which it is claimed will create 6,000 jobs.
But the Save CQ campaign group has said the 12-acre retail, office and residential development will damage the character of the historic Cathedral Quarter in the city centre.
Developer Castlebrooke has now submitted plans for the first stage of the ambitious scheme, which include the redevelopment of a 12-acre site based around Royal Avenue.
Craig O'Brien of Savills, representing developer Castlebrooke, defended the scheme and said it had extensively engaged with the public, through consultation, and that plans would "kickstart" the rest of the overall development.
He said a "high profile tenant" is already in line to take over the major retail element of the scheme. John Lewis had previously been linked to the development.
Mr O'Brien added it would be "Belfast's defence against Sprucefield".
He said more than 200 construction jobs would be created.
Addressing concerns over Belfast's listed buildings and built heritage, conservational architect Dawson Stelfox - arguing for the development - said it would lead to "more restoration" of the city.
Rebekah McCabe, representing the opposition group Save CQ, said the "premature" application would take Belfast "one step away" from its long-term vision.
She said there had been a lack of consultation with the community and that there was insufficient provision for housing. And she said the city had a "poor history of development".
Nikki McVeigh, chief executive of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, which has already submitted detailed objections to the plans, said it failed on a number of planning areas.
She said that plans put the city's "built heritage under threat".
The plans include a number of retail developments, offices, hotel and landscaping, along with the demolition of seven existing premises and the restoration of listed buildings.
The hearing revolved around the first full planning application to be lodged. It involves building a six-storey development and creating a mixed use site with retail units, restaurants and cafes, residential units, offices, church and related community floor space, new streets and public realm works.
The work involves knocking down two buildings, 53 Royal Avenue and 27 to 31 Rosemary Street, as well as the "restoration" of two listed buildings, including Central Halls and Masonic Hall on Rosemary Street.