The Orange Order in Belfast is amongst the objectors to a plan to revamp land close to the city's main public transport station.
The Weaver’s Cross regeneration plan was described as “bleak” at a City Hall meeting this week.
During a special meeting of Belfast City Council’s planning committee, elected representatives attended a “pre-determination hearing” on the plan, with the case being put forward by objectors and supporters.
Councillors were not asked at this stage to approve or reject the project, which is still in early stages.
The Weaver’s Cross project proposes to redevelop lands freed up by the future closure of the existing Europa Bus Station and Great Victoria Street train station and other vacant lands in the ownership of Translink.
The proposals are described by the applicant, the government owned Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, as being a “transport-led regeneration” with a focus on “placemaking and public realm, environmental sustainability and delivering economic and social value.”
At the last meeting on the application, the council had received six letters of support and 120 objections. The majority of the objections relate to the removal of the Boyne Bridge and introduction of new pedestrian crosses associated with the Belfast Transport Hub, which has already been approved.
Just before this week’s hearing at City Hall a further letter of objection was received by the council from the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast, as well as letters of support from the NI Hotels Federation and the Belfast City Centre Management Company, and a withdrawal of a previous objection from Donaldson Planning, who act on behalf of a multi-storey car park on Grosvenor Road.
At this week’s meeting, Architect Declan Hill told the chamber: “Urban design is about the space between buildings, it is about public health, it is not some luxury designed in European countries.”
He added: “At a pre-application consultation organised by Translink’s planning consultants on October 18, 2021, I was horrified at what I saw. The height of the proposed buildings, and lack of space between, would create a bleak environment on the approach to the station for the people of Belfast and its visitors.”
He said the plan “was about the design of office buildings, not urban design.” He asked councillors to defer a decision by three months to allow the plans to be amended, and asked the council to study regeneration plans at Kent Street Railway Station in Cork.
The plan, conceived in line with the new Belfast Transport Hub, involves mixed use regeneration development featuring new office blocks, residential apartments including affordable housing, hotels, retail and leisure units, new public realm, active travel use, cafes, bars restaurants and community uses.
It covers land east of the West Link and south of Grosvenor Road, at Grosvenor Road and the intersection of Grosvenor Road and Durham Street, as well as land east of Durham Street and north of Glengall Street.
It also covers lands between Glengall Street and Hope Street, including the Europa Bus Station, Great Victoria Rail Station surface car parks at St Andrew’s Square, as well as Translink lands to the west of Durham Street, south of the BT Exchange building, and north of Murray’s Tobacco Works.
Representing the applicant, urban regeneration projects director Len McComb, told the chamber: “Weaver’s Cross is a once-in-a-generation opportunity here for regeneration through connection, with the opportunity for 1.3 million square feet of mixed-use space within a five-minute walk from City Hall.”
He said: “It will significantly rebalance and extend the growth of the city centre to the south and west. The site will link directly to the city centre. The masterplan provides a flexible framework to realise the long-term vision for the site, creating a connected, active and new urban neighbourhood, a place for people to live, work and play.”
He added: “Translink has a significant role to play in the race to net zero, and it is committed to net zero emissions by 2040. Weaver’s Cross residents and occupiers will benefit from highly sustainable and environmentally favourable buildings and infrastructure and will achieve active travel targets.
“Weaver’s Cross will deliver a considerable economic benefit to Northern Ireland and Belfast, around one billion additional spend to the NI economy, the opportunity for over 8,000 full-time jobs within the area, and considerable foreign direct investment.”
The Transport Hub Alternatives Group have said that work around the 1642 Saltwater Bridge at Sandy Row, on the current Boyne Bridge, will ruin what they see as Belfast’s oldest heritage building.
The original bridge at the site is believed to have been built in 1611, over what was known as the Blackstaff River, and was replaced in 1642 by the Great Bridge of Belfast, later known as the Saltwater Bridge.
King William of Orange is said to have crossed the old bridge in June 1690 on his way to the Boyne, while King James II is also thought to have retreated along the same path. The modern Boyne Bridge was constructed in the 1930s around the remains of the previous crossings.