Belfast Telegraph

Student digs and office builds to dominate Belfast's skyline

By Ryan McAleer

Belfast city centre saw the addition of more than 2,000 new bedrooms for students last year, according to new analysis by Deloitte.

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The third annual Belfast Crane Survey said it remains unclear how the continued economic and political uncertainty will impact the city in future.

But it states that the £350m secured through the Belfast Region City Deal offers some room for optimism.

Today's report, which captures the evolution in development patterns in Belfast, revealed that 1,249 hotel rooms were completed in 10 city centre projects during 2018.

But the hotel boom appears to have come to an end, with just one city centre hotel project under construction in 2019.

Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright's George Best Hotel had been due to open in 2018, but delays have pushed the project back into 2019.

Subject to planning permission, his company Signature Living could begin construction in 2019 of a new hotel in the old War Memorial Building on Waring Street.

On the other hand, student accommodation projects show little sign of slowing down in Belfast, with new schemes commenced in 2018 expected to add another 761 units.

Last year saw Queen's University complete 1,238 units across its new Elms projects, while the Swanston Hall project on Queen Street introduced 317 units to the city centre.

Much of the new development has centred around the new 720,000 sq ft Ulster University campus on York Street, which remains under construction.

Olympian Homes delivered 474 bedrooms in Greet Patrick Street in the third quarter of 2018.

Two other developers - Watkin Jones/Lacuna (354 units) and York Street (No.1) Ltd (407 units) - are on site and due to be completed in the autumn.

Simon Bedford, from Deloitte Real Estate, said: "We've seen the completion of several student accommodation buildings which will widen the higher education offering, increase city centre living and bring new life to neglected parts of the city."

And office development in Belfast is expected to be dominated by a series of major schemes adding Grade A offices.

The £85m Bedford Square project started late last year and when completed in 2021, will add 213,000 sq ft of office floorspace to the city centre.

Almost half of that (100,000 sq ft), will be occupied by Deloitte and its 1,000 staff.

Similarly, the £70m Merchant Square office building will become the headquarters for PwC in Northern Ireland when its opens in 2020.

Construction is expected to begin this year on Belfast Harbour's £50m 250,000 sq ft City Quays 3 scheme, one of the largest grade A office developments ever to be built in Northern Ireland.

The £400m Belfast Waterside project is also in line for an early 2019 start on the former Sirocco Works site.

Meanwhile, the controversially named Tribeca project is also set to start this year and is expected to add 1.5 million sq ft of residential, office, retail and hospitality space by the time it's finished in 2021.

Now in its third year, the Belfast Crane Survey has charted the slow development of city centre residential projects.

Despite two new schemes launched in 2017, there were no new starts in 2018.

However, Deloitte's report suggests the Belfast Waterside and Tribeca projects in particular could be the stimulus for a major change, with the masterplan for the former including 800 units in total.

Mr Bedford said: "Anecdotally, issues of density and height restrictions have been raised as challenges for developers seeking funding and the limited activity demonstrates that residential schemes remain challenging.

"While residential needs attention, the key ingredients are there for the future success of Belfast."

Belfast Telegraph