Martin Lynch backs group fighting to 'save' Belfast's Cathedral Quarter from demolition
Belfast playwright Martin Lynch has thrown his weight behind a campaign to "develop, not demolish", amid news of plans for a £400m regeneration of part of the city centre.
The Royal Exchange project could see a 12-acre site north-east of City Hall transformed into a high-end shopping district, but campaigners fear the scheme will tear the heart out of an historic part of Belfast and have urged members of the public to have their say before a consultation closes on Monday.
Developers have claimed the scheme, if given the go-ahead, would be Belfast';s largest regeneration project.
The proposed redevelopment includes retail, leisure, residential, community and office space.
The area affected includes part of Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street, Lower Garfield Street and High Street.
It also includes part of the Cathedral Quarter, as well as a run-down section of the city known for its distinctive graffiti.
The new lobby group, called #SaveCQ, said it wanted to see development, not demolition and claimed the plans would strip the area of its character.
Mr Lynch said: "Obviously, we welcome any serious investment into the area. But the Royal Exchange proposal is ill-conceived on many levels and would have a devastating effect on the Cathedral Quarter as we know it if planning permission for the proposal in its current form were to be granted by the council.
"While the campaign fully recognises that this part of the city needs redevelopment, we firmly believe that any authorised redevelopment should complement, enhance and integrate with the Cathedral Quarter, working with the unique and valuable built and cultural heritage which exists in the area, rather than against it."
Campaign spokeswoman Sarah Hughes added: "This is one of Belfast's most vibrant, historic and culturally significant areas and to see it turned into nondescript shops would be heart-breaking.
However, London investor Castlebrooke Developments, the company behind the plans, insisted that all of the listed buildings in the area would be retained.
A spokesman for the group said: "An outline planning application will be submitted for the scheme next month, which will comprise a mix of retail, leisure, residential, community and office space. A more detailed application will also be submitted for a new grade A office building, which will form part of the scheme.
"These applications will improve upon the existing detailed planning permission that has already been granted.
"The pre-application consultation process remains open and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the plans further with individuals, businesses and other relevant groups."