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Assessment of disputed Aurora proposal under way

A Ballycastle developer reached for the sky in 2007 when he unveiled bold plans for a gleaming 37-storey, 109m skyscraper on Great Victoria Street.

The Aurora would dwarf the Obel and be second in height only by the U2 Tower in Dublin’s Docklands.

The building was to marry a high-tech outlook with heavenly vision as a permanent lighting display on the roof simulated |the northern lights. Such was the Aurora buzz that drawings of it were supplied to the brochures selling Belfast as a centre for investment at the US:NI investment conference last year.

But to an outcry from supporters, the developers and then-Environment Minister Sammy Wilson, the Aurora was refused planning permission as planners said it would not fit in well with other buildings in the street and would have a detrimental visual impact.

Mervyn McAlister, chief executive of McAlister Holdings, said the decision sent out the message that Belfast was “closed for business” — and a giant sign to that effect occupied the site for some time.

Minister Wilson hit out at his own civil servants, and accused them of “abysmal failure” in turning the Aurora down.

The planners’ views prompted an outpouring of bile on internet forums. “So planners prefer low rise buildings made of cheap ugly crap that destroy our cities and towns,”

Belfast City Council disagreed with the planners and the application has been with the management board of the Planning Service since earlier this year.

The Department for Social Development was asked to consider the regeneration aspects of the proposal.

In statement, the DoE said: “As part of the consideration of the application by the Management Board, consultation had been carried out with the Department for Social Development (DSD) for advice on the regeneration aspects of the proposal. Planning Service has received a response from DSD and a full assessment of the proposal is now under way.”

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