Belfast Telegraph

Council row putting £10m Belfast courthouse hotel plan in jeopardy

Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Liverpool property developer Lawrence Kenwright has said there is "not a chance" he will proceed with a £10 million hotel project in the former Crumlin Road Courthouse if planning issues with Belfast City Council are not resolved.

Mr Kenwright's company Signature Living has been in dispute with officials for some weeks over the development of the new George Best Hotel in the former Scottish Mutual Building in Belfast city centre.

The hotel had been due to open earlier this month, but the developer said he is now aiming to open on February 14. However, he conceded the project remains "in abeyance".

Around 150 people will eventually be employed there.

Mr Kenwright hosted a joint Press conference yesterday with trade union Siptu in the hotel, where the union said it would ensure bargaining rights for staff and guarantee them a living wage.

The developer confirmed that a number of people have been on the payroll for some months.

"We're lucky that we're a hotel group that employs 1,400 people now, so we can sustain that loss at the start," he said.

"There is a certain amount of money you have to spend at the start when you set up a hotel."

After sending a scathing public letter to Belfast City Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey earlier this month, Mr Kenwright sounded a more conciliatory tone yesterday.

"Originally we were critical of the council. We've got a lot of points ironed out. We think we're well on the way to sorting out what those issues are," he revealed.

"We've got a little more work to do, but we're really confident we can sort it out between ourselves.

"A lot of the issues come from different levels and different standards within planning that we have over in the mainland as opposed to here. We can take some responsibility for that and I think they can as well.

"We're here to open a hotel, we're not here to create battles or wars. We're here to make sure we get the building open."

Belfast City Council has declined to comment on the letter, but it is understood legal advice has been sought.

Despite the apparent softening of attitudes, Mr Kenwright said he remains serious about his threat to withhold £40m from £80m of funding he had pledged for Belfast.

He suggested it would include the £10m Crumlin Road hotel and other unnamed projects. The developer previously expressed his interest in the Floral Hall building at Bellevue and said he would like to replicate his Liverpool Signature Works co-working project here.

But Mr Kenwright said he would not proceed with the north Belfast hotel if he believes the experience will resemble the George Best project.

"Do I want to go into a battle with Crumlin Road in the same way I have done here? No, I don't," he added.

"Unless ground rules are established where I feel totally comfortable going into what is probably the most difficult building to bring back into play as a hotel, then I won't be doing it."

However, he did suggest he could still proceed with a plan to open a hotel in the former War Memorial Museum in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

Belfast Telegraph