D-Day for Belfast £400m Royal Exchange plan
The green light for the beginning of a £400m redevelopment of Belfast city centre could be given at a special council meeting in a fortnight.
A decision on stage one of the Royal Exchange project was due to be taken last month, but the City Hall planning committee deferred it until members carried out a site visit.
That visit took place on February 21.
Now planners want to hold a special committee meeting on March 27 to decide whether work can begin on the controversial scheme, which it is claimed will create 6,000 jobs, and could have a 27-storey high-rise at its core.
But campaigners warned last month that the proposals would put the city's historic buildings "under threat", and they move away from the council's long-term vision.
Council planning documents say: "The committee previously agreed that this application would be considered at a separate meeting, due to the number of linked applications and to provide the opportunity for these to be considered in parallel to the main proposal.
"A site visit took place on February 21, 2018. Members viewed the site from Royal Avenue, Lower Garfield Street, North Street and Rosemary Street.
"Members were also shown around three listed buildings (Central Halls, Masonic Hall and 41-51 Royal Avenue) internally and viewed the boundary wall of the listed First Presbyterian Church."
The first stage of the scheme, from developer Castlebrooke, covers a 12-acre site around Royal Avenue.
The Save CQ campaign group has said this retail, office and residential development will damage the character of the historic Cathedral Quarter.
The proposed 27-storey building mooted for Royal Exchange has been described as a "massive monolith" that threatens to overshadow the city's oldest church.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society has said it believes "our valuable, fragile and non-renewable built heritage is again under threat" from the proposals for Royal Exchange. During last month's committee meeting, Craig O'Brien of Savills, representing 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.
Mr O'Brien said a "high-profile tenant" was already in line to take over the major retail element of the scheme. John Lewis had previously been linked.
He added that it would be "Belfast's defence against Sprucefield", and would create more than 200 construction jobs.