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Belfast's £3.5m Big Wheel set to open for Christmas

By Victoria O'Hara

Belfast's Big Wheel has finally arrived and is expected to be spinning in the city within weeks.

The construction of the massive 60m, £3.5m wheel is underway outside the City Hall after months of delay.

Within weeks members of the public will be able to enjoy panoramic views from the 'Belfast Eye' 200ft above the city.

The wheel has 42 air-conditioned passenger capsules, which can hold up to 330 people and each flight takes approximately 15 minutes.

The construction operation is scheduled to take between two and three weeks with engineers flying in from Holland to erect the wheel.

An official opening is understood to be scheduled for November 19, allowing members of the public to view the city sights during the Christmas period.

World Tourist Attractions successfully won the tender to operate the wheel earlier this year.

The UK firm has already built landmark big wheels in Manchester and Seville where they have become top tourist attractions.

John Lowry, from the company, said they are delighted to have the construction of the wheel finally under way.

"We are due to stay until March, but we would like to stay longer," he said.

"We've got engineers from Holland and technicians from England putting the wheel together.

"It took a long time, but it is great to finally be over and to bring the wheel to Belfast.

He added: "I understand that there will be an official ceremony held around November 19."

The massive multi-million pound structure was originally expected to open in the grounds of the City Hall last summer to mark the historical building's centenary.

Proposals to erect the wheel at the City Hall were approved by both two council committees in March 2006.

But it did not receive full council backing until October 2006, due to key issues such as cost, the use of council land, and the duration of the project needing to be addressed.

In February 2007 - after months of delay - the Department for Social Development (the agency responsible for the major project), said the giant wheel was then set to be open to the public from June until October 2007, following the tendering process.

But the project was again hit with further delays.

Despite the City Hall closing for major renovation work the wheel will remain in the grounds for the next five months.

In May a DSD spokeswoman said: "Visitors and local people will be able to view from the air the Christmas lights and the extensive city centre regenaration."

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