Belfast Telegraph

Fate of Belfast centre buildings on former Royal Exchange site to be decided

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy Reporter

Several buildings in the heart of Belfast are set to be demolished to make way for the £400m urban regeneration project formally known as Royal Exchange.

The council’s planning committee will tomorrow night issue a decision which could see the structures on 53-63 Royal Avenue and 16 Lower Garfield Street disappear.

Some of the key issues in the case include the possible impact on adjacent listed buildings and the sections of the plans which fall within the city centre Conservation Area.

City planners have recommended approval of the demolition plans, which follow the committee’s green light for 11 out of the 12 of the project's associated applications in March.

Developers Castlebrooke Investments said almost 6,000 permanent jobs are set to be created by the new office, retail and leisure space.

It will also feature two hotels, the reintegration and refurbishment of seven listed buildings, three new public realm spaces and a 22-storey tower block.

To date, the company has invested more than £40m in acquiring the site, in addition to planning and construction, which began with a listed building on Lower Garfield site last year (under existing planning permission).

Previously known as the Royal Exchange project, the site switched hands in January 2016 in an off-the-market deal between Castlebrooke and Cerberus Capital, the US firm who purchased Nama assets totalling almost £1.5bn in 2014.

The overall site covers 12 acres of land in the North East Quarter of the city centre bound by Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street, Lower Garfield Street and High Street.

Construction for the proposed scheme is estimated to be around £250m, with the total investment reported to be close to £400m.

“The properties proposed for demolition do not make a material contribution to the character or appearance of the area and are of no architectural merit or historic value and detract from the adjacent listed buildings at No’s. 41-51 Royal Avenue and 2-14 Lower Garfield Street,” tomorrow’s council briefing paper reads.

Concerns over the project were previously raised at City Hall by several councillors and campaign groups, such as Save Cathedral Quarter and Ulster Architectural Heritage, namely regarding the potential negative impact on heritage, arts and smaller businesses.

One issue still outstanding relates to the partial demolition of a boundary wall around First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street.

In March’s planning meeting there were issues raised about a lack of agreement between the church and Castlebrooke, however it is understood the issue should be resolved shortly.

Meanwhile, other items on tomorrow night’s agenda include: a proposed extension to the Asda store in the Westwood Centre; a residential development on the site of the old Mount Gilbert College; and a new reception and exhibition space in City Hall.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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