A major £12m aquarium which could create more than 50 full-time jobs for Belfast looks set to get the go ahead.
The new tourist spot could see as many as 300,000 visitors each year, according to those behind the attraction, if it gets planning approval next week for its Titanic Quarter site.
It’s set to be the biggest attraction of its kind on the island of Ireland.
Belfast City Council planners are recommending the new development is given planning approval.
The firm behind it, reefLIVE, says around 80 to 100 construction jobs could be created during its construction, with 51 full-time posts created when it opens its doors, subject to getting the planning green light.
The aquarium would be a two-storey building, based across more than 30,000 sq ft, and include a cafe, coral reef ocean tank, with the main exhibition space across five zones on the first floor – themed as Ireland, Deep Ocean, Azores, Pacific and Arctic.
It’s expected that visitors would spend between one and a half and two hours on-site, with tours offered such as dive experiences, behind-the-scenes tours and virtual reality ice dives.
Around 13 representations were received in relation to the planning application, including 10 letters of objection. Concerns included the impact to traffic and travel, the impact on heritage for both listed buildings and monuments, flooding and the potential negative impact on the Portaferry aquarium in Co Down.
The aquarium’s exterior building has been designed by Ethos Architects while the interior has been devised by aquarium design team led by Kay Elliott Architects.
Those behind the tourist attraction say it is “anticipated that the reefLIVE Aquarium will be the largest marine-life visitor attraction on the island of Ireland and in bringing another international-standard attraction to the Titanic Quarter, will help to boost the length of each tourist visit to the city”.
In recommending the scheme for approval, planners said that “having regard to the development plan and other material considerations, including the issues raised by the representation, the proposal is considered and approval of planning permission is recommended with delegated authority given to the director of planning and building control to finalise the wording of conditions subject to no new substantive planning issues being raised by third parties”.
Brian Kelly, a director at the project’s planning consultant, Turley, said: “It has been fantastic to witness the public’s support for the introduction the aquarium to Belfast. We look forward to progressing this application through to determination and hope to see the project come to fruition within the aspiring time frame.”
Keith Thomas, managing director of reefLIVE, said: “TV programmes such as the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 appeal across generations and strike a chord with a very wide audience, inspiring debate, engagement and activism about how we manage and protect our marine environment and wildlife.
“We believe that UK aquaria have a responsibility to prioritise their role in promoting conservation of that environment through education and inspirational experiences.
“The exhibitions within the aquarium will seek to address the public’s increased focus on environmental and sustainability issues using cutting-edge storytelling technology to showcase importance of safeguarding and preserving ocean life. He continued:
“reefLIVE Aquarium Belfast will be part of a new generation of aquaria that offer visitors a truly unique and educational experience of ocean life, its creatures and their habitats. We believe that this kind of fully involved experience can help influence or challenge behaviours, and shape the attitudes of a generation that already has so much access to information that they are no longer interested in generic or passive experiences.”