Council is urged to reject proposal to demolish 19th century building
Conservationists have called on Belfast City Council to withdraw a recommendation to approve the demolition of a 19th century building in the city's historic Linen Quarter to make way for an eight storey office block.
Killultagh Estates has applied to knock down three buildings in Belfast city centre at Clarence Street and Linenhall Street.
While two single storey structures are considered of little architectural merit, the Ulster Architectural and Heritage Society (UAHS) is among the strong objectors to the demolition of the third building, known as Clarence Gallery.
Built in the 1880s, the former warehouse is notable for its three-storey red brick facade and windows. It falls within in what's known as Belfast's Linen Conservation Area.
In a report set to go before Belfast City Council's planning committee on Tuesday, officials have recommended that the developer's proposal is "acceptable".
It states while the development lies within a conservation area, "an exceptional case has been made for demolition of Clarence Gallery owing to its structural condition" and "loss of historic fabric viability".
However, the UAHS yesterday called for the recommendation to be withdrawn, claiming the new building represented "a fake Belfast".
The society has asked for Clarence Gallery to be retained in the interest of conservation. It also called for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out. The heritage group's strongest concerns surround the issues raised over the structural integrity of Clarence Gallery.
In the planning report, the council's conservation officer describes the building as the "last vernacular, functional warehouse within the conservation area" adding that it "assumes great importance".
But the report goes on to reveal that the building's original roof was removed during the Eighties and the same officer appears to have suggested that "little internal historic fabric remains".
The UAHS said yesterday it was not aware of the structural issues when the application emerged three years ago.
"We understand from interim observation of this building that removal of structural elements of the interior may have taken place," it said.
The body has asked for Belfast City Council to clarify whether unauthorised works had contributed to the changes in structural integrity before making a decision on the application.
Analysis by commercial property agents has identified the challenges in retaining the building. Removing asbestos has been costed at £600,000, with an estimated £1.6m needed to refurbish Clarence Gallery.
The rent the building would yield - £16-£18 per sq ft - has been described as "unviable".
Killultagh Estates' portfolio includes the building next door - Linenhall Plaza. It also owns the Connswater and Castlebawn shopping centres.
Its application for Clarence Gallery, which dates back to June 2015, has been revised five times. The latest incarnation of its proposal follows extensive negotiations with officers.
Ultimately, city planning officials concluded: "The proposed scheme will contribute positively to the local environment by enhancing the character and appearance of the conservation area, will result in inward investment and bring this key corner of the conservation area back into active use."