Belfast must address the dereliction of historic buildings in and around its city centre to continue attracting visitors and investment, it has been warned.
That is the view of the Belfast Civic Trust, a group of architects, conservationists and tour guides, who have identified several historic buildings in the city centre which could act as focal points for regeneration — if they were restored.
They believe the whole character of Belfast city centre could be transformed through the regeneration of 10 key dilapidated buildings.
The theory behind their plan is that the city decays around major buildings which fall into disrepair, but restoring some of Belfast’s iconic old buildings means extending the areas which visitors find attractive and genial.
“Look at it this way — if you are walking through the city and you reach Donegall Street Arcade or the Assembly Rooms on Waring Street, you get the immediate impression that you are entering into an area in need of refurbishment,” said David Flinn of Belfast Civic Trust, which promotes the need to conserve old architectural buildings.
“Well, we see 10 key buildings that similarly signal to the shopper or visitor that they have reached the end of the commercial area, the point at which a bleaker space begins, where it is time to turn back.”
Mr Flinn believes that transforming just a few key buildings could alter the entire character of the city. In addition, the introduction of green spaces adjacent to some of these buildings would add to the habitability of the city centre.
He emphasises particularly that the Assembly rooms (Old Northern Bank) on Bridge Street/Donegall Street needs restored and could be augmented by greening half of Bridge Street and an area at the side of the building.
“At present, it acts as a deterrent to anyone venturing into the Cathedral Quarter,” explained Philip Lee, an architect on the trust.
“The Donegall Arcade and Garfield Street in this area also need urgent repair.”
Belfast Civic has identified 10 buildings which, if restored would transform the city centre. These include the Old RUC station on Queen Street and the County Court building on Victoria Street, which would in turn completely change the areas around them.
Other buildings which could stimulate their locations are the Bank of Ireland art deco building and the former Belfast Telegraph building, both on Royal Avenue, an area which used to be the vibrant heart of Belfast and now looks depleted and weary.
The Trust argues that the area between the former Telegraph building and the Central Library could make an attractive small square where people might rest from their shopping and feel contented in gracious surroundings.
Turning to the Sailortown area, Pat’s Bar and the Rotterdam should be reinstated as traditional Belfast pubs to enliven Barrow Square and create a focal point for people living nearby.
Meanwhile, the Trust says a refurbished and repurposed Crumlin Road Courthouse would act as a catalyst along with the jail to revitalise the Crumlin Road.
“All successful tourist cities attract visitors and residents through preservation of their historic buildings and quarters. Belfast doesn’t,” Mr Flinn added.
“The city badly needs to address the dereliction of its historic buildings in and adjacent to its city centre if it wishes to continue to attract visitors and investment.”
Ten buildings key to transformation of Belfast:
Assembly rooms (Old Northern Bank) on Bridge Street/Donegall Street
Donegall Street Arcade
Scottish Mutual Building at Donegall Square South
Old RUC station on Queen Street
County Court on Victoria Street
Bank of Ireland art deco building on Royal Avenue
The old Belfast Telegraph building on Royal Avenue
Pat’s Bar on Princes Dock St
The Rotterdam Bar on Princes Dock Street
Crumlin Road Courthouse