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Former QUB's Malone Road offices could become guest house and cafe

By Emma Deighan

Former Queen's University Belfast office buildings on Malone Road could be converted into 18-bed guest accommodation and a cafe as an application by a pension fund awaits approval.

The scheme to convert 43-45 Malone Road, opposite Chlorine Gardens and close to the Botanic Inn was made by planning consultancy Clyde Shanks.

The firm requested planning permission to convert the empty offices that can also count the Abacus Chinese restaurant, The Barking Dog and The Eglantine as neighbours.

Clyde Shanks, which submitted the plans on behalf of its client Windyhill Farm Ltd Pension Fund, has also submitted a separate listed building consent application for the B2 building.

A spokesperson at Clyde Shanks said the construction was "subject to consultees being satisfied" by plans.

The application follows on from the release of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency's (NISRA) 2017 tourism figures. They revealed that visitor numbers here have grown, alongside visitor spend which hit a record £926m.

Among the winners in the accommodation sector here were hotels which enjoyed 73% occupancy. Guesthouses and guest accommodation, as well as B&Bs, experienced a lower 37% occupancy.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation (NIHF), said a rise in visitors and overnight stays here is positive but with an influx of up to 40% more rooms set to join the market there will be both "challenges and opportunities" for the region.

She said: "It is important that growth continues to meet the increase in supply. The 2017 figures give rise for optimism but in order to reach our true potential and catch up with other destinations it is imperative that tourism is seen as a priority sector for Northern Ireland with policies that reflect its role as a key economic driver."

Christina McCartan, owner of guest accommodation Ballycanal Manor in Moira, has risen to the challenge presented by the stream of new hotels on the market.

She said: "They have increased the standards of decor and interiors for smaller establishments and they've made it more competitive.

"To challenge that, the smaller operators need to play on their selling points which is the artisan product, the building, the decor, the people and the story behind it. I think that's something that many of the larger hotels cannot create."

Ms McCartan has embarked on a complete refurbishment of her property with plans for a museum element which will be introduced this autumn.

Asked if she had benefited from the growing tourism industry here, she added: "People used to come for a specific reason -an event or business - b ut now they're coming because they are curious about the story of Northern Ireland."

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