Belfast Telegraph

Council's policy defended after attack by George Best Hotel boss

By Margaret Canning

A Belfast architect has come to the defence of Belfast City Council after it was lambasted over its planning policies by the man behind the £15m George Best Hotel.

Liverpudlian Lawrence Kenwright has written to the city council accusing it of a "system of anti-development" which he claimed was damaging Belfast and Northern Ireland's economy.

In his letter, the hotelier said he will cut his investment in the city from £80m to £40m.

As well as the George Best Hotel - being built at the historic Scottish Mutual Building at Donegall Place - he had also announced hotels for the War Memorial Building in Waring Street and Crumlin Road Courthouse.

However, it's not clear which of Mr Kenwright's projects will be jeopardised by the cut in his planned investment.

Over the last year, around 1,200 new hotel rooms have been added in Belfast, following extensions and the construction of hotels including the Maldron, the AC Marriott, The Hampton by Hilton and the Grand Central.

Stephen Blaney, a director at Coogan & Co Architects, said it had "nothing but respect" for the council after working on projects including the extension of Ten Square hotel in the city centre.

Mr Blaney said: "My company acted for the developer who purchased the Ten Square Hotel. He added over 100 bedrooms in the adjacent two office buildings without even closing the hotel.

"We have nothing but the highest respect for our city council and the rate at which they are transforming Belfast.

"Generally we find that the higher the quality of the planning submission material, the smoother the developer makes his path through the planning application process. The number of new hotels opened recently and the number of cranes on the skyline tell their own story."

The council has said it will not be commenting. Mr Kenwright was not available for further comment yesterday.

The letter was issued following the delayed opening of the George Best Hotel. It was to launch at the start of this month, but plans were stalled after architects from the Department for Communities' historic environment division raised concerns over "unauthorised works". After a site visit, they claimed the works taking place "fail to be informed by a conservation-led approach".

A spokeswoman for charity Ulster Architectural Heritage said it supported developers "who make a commitment to re-purpose and re-use historic buildings".

But she added: "That commitment comes with a responsibility and a statutory requirement to retain and enhance the historic fabric and character of the building.

"The Scottish Mutual Building is Grade B1 listed, which includes all the historic fabric, both exterior and interior.

"UAH expressed concern, having observed the apparent level of alteration and removal of the interior and, with the issuing of a letter from the Department of Communities historic environment division, detailing extensive unauthorised works to the building's interior, it appears that our concerns were justified."

She said it was "perfectly feasible" to alter historic buildings for a profitable use "but all administrations must have planning policy which applies across the board".

"Belfast currently has sound historic building policy which mirrors the rest of the UK. No developer or agent acting for a developer will be unaware of the need to adhere to relevant policy and as a consequence there can be no excusing extensive unauthorised works."

Belfast Telegraph

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