Belfast Telegraph

Business carries on as usual for Victoria Square stores

Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Shops in Victoria Square, Northern Ireland's biggest shopping centre, are still trading despite the emergency evacuation of the apartments within its complex.

The operation of the shopping centre is managed by commercial property agents Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) on behalf of the centre's owner, German fund Commerz Real.

A spokeswoman for LSH said it was business as usual for the stores.

She added: "Victoria Square shopping centre is aware of a construction investigation currently taking place at Victoria Square Apartments. 

"We are working with the managing agents of the apartments to assist in their investigation."

Shopworkers contacted by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday said they were still trading despite the emergency affecting the nearby apartments.

The ownership of the apartments is a combination of individuals who own the apartments outright and occupy them, landlords who rent them out to long-term tenants, and companies owning a number of the flats but letting them out on short-term stays.

Graham Pierce, a solicitor specialising in property at Belfast-based law firm Worthingtons, said the answer to questions over who might be responsible - if anyone - would not be easy to establish.

"Generally speaking, liability for design and construction defects is limited to 12 years from the day buildings are certified as being complete," he said.

"If there are found to be defects and if there has been a breach of contract by the builder, or a designer, then they are in principle on the hook and liable for their breaches for 12 years," Mr Pierce added.

But he said that given the apartments had since been sold on by their original developer "there will be a whole web of contractual arrangements between those original people and their present residents".

He said the issue could turn out to easily resolved with remedial building work.

"If not, the potential for dispute is vast, given there's so many people affected and the apartments are now unsellable until there is a clean bill of health."

Mr Pierce added: "Worst-case scenario, this issue is a chain around the ankle of the owners affecting the saleability of their apartments - but that is a worst-case scenario."

The entire development was built in a £400m project between 2004 and 2008 by two Northern Ireland contractors, Gilbert-Ash and Farrans, after they were appointed to carry out the work by multi-development partnership.

Gilbert-Ash was not able to provide a comment when asked yesterday. Irish construction giant CRH plc, which owns Farrans in Northern Ireland, did not respond to a request for comment by email.

A spokesman for Commerz Real confirmed it did not own the apartments but added that it was aware of the investigation.

But one expert in construction added it was not unexpected that the shops remained open as they were likely to have been built using different construction methods.

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