Belfast Telegraph

Delay-hit George Best Hotel staff in Belfast offered relocation or redundancy

The Scottish Mutual Building on Donegall Square South, which Signature Living is proposing to turn into the George Best Hotel
The Scottish Mutual Building on Donegall Square South, which Signature Living is proposing to turn into the George Best Hotel
Owner: Lawrence Kenwright
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Employees at the delayed George Best Hotel in Belfast have been offered relocation to England or Wales or redundancy, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Around two dozen people are understood to have been on Signature Living's payroll since last year.

The company, owned by Liverpool hotelier Lawrence Kenwright, has been in a long running dispute with planning officials over the development of its first Northern Ireland hotel in the former Scottish Mutual Building in the city centre.

It's one of three hotels Signature Living is pursuing in Belfast, alongside projects at the old Crumlin Road Courthouse and the former Royal Ulster Rifles Museum on Waring Street.

To date, the Crumlin Road proposal is the only project to secure planning permission, with officials still processing the proposed 63-bedroom hotel behind Belfast City Hall, named after Northern Ireland's most famous footballer.

Planned opening dates for the £15m George Best Hotel in February and June have come and gone.

It's understood that Signature Living recently paid for the costs incurred to relocate two wedding receptions booked for the venue in August.

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Now the company has confirmed it has offered to relocate its Belfast staff to hotels in Liverpool or Cardiff until the Belfast venue is ready to open.

It said those who have not taken up the offer, understood to be around 10 people, have been offered compensation packages.

In a statement, a spokesman for Signature Living said the continued planning delays has had a knock on effect with staff.

"A relocation assistance package was offered to anyone who decided to take up this option, with a view to returning to Belfast once the George Best Hotel has a confirmed opening date. I can confirm the support packages included flights, travel, accommodation and more," he said.

"As with any business, over time some of the original team left of their own accord, to take up opportunities elsewhere.

"Those employees who felt the relocation package was not for them, are being compensated accordingly, and fully supported as they move on to new opportunities."

The listed status of the building has been the major stumbling block for Signature Living's George Best Hotel project.

The Historic Environment Division (HED) of the Department for Communities has raised a number of issues around protecting internal features of the Scottish Mutual Building, including ceilings and dry-lining.

Signature Living said: "The George Best Hotel has encountered continued delay with anticipated opening dates, due to policy and building work process protocols taking longer than originally anticipated.

"As with many old buildings, restoration is not always a straightforward process, and delays can be inevitable.

"Signature Living continues to work with Belfast City Council on all procedural issues and building requirements, with both parties looking forward to the hotel opening in due course."

Belfast Telegraph