Stormont pulls out of £360m Royal Exchange
Plans for a multi-million pound development in Belfast city centre are once again on hold after Stormont pulled the plug on the latest incarnation of the project.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) revealed it had terminated a deal with property development company Leaside Investments in a Stormont committee meeting yesterday.
It was hoped that Royal Exchange would become a shopping village able to compete with Victoria Square, with hopes John Lewis would set up there.
Around £360m had been put aside to transform the 12-acre site, located in the north-east of the city centre.
A planning application was also approved by the Department of the Environment over three years ago.
At the time, the Leaside Investments consortium said it intended to include at least 250,000 sq ft of retail space in the complex, as well as restaurants, bars, cafés, art and leisure spaces, offices, car parking and more.
The complex was planned to include at least one anchor department store, over 25,000sq m of prime retail space, catering and leisure units and at least 200 apartments, 40 of which were planned to be affordable housing.
According to the original plans, the development would have brought 3,000 jobs to the city.
A well-placed insider told the Belfast Telegraph concerns over the viability of the development were first raised a year ago but have only been made public this month. Four companies run by Royal Exchange developers Andrew Creighton and Frank Boyd were wound up two months ago.
Arrangements have already been put in place to begin a new tendering process.
A DSD spokesperson said: "The department gave careful consideration before terminating the agreement with Leaside Investments, with our overriding aim to ensure that the north east quarter of the city is developed for the maximum economic benefit."
The spokesperson added the minister had asked officials to explore how a statutory development scheme could help establish an appropriate mix of uses.
The original agreement stipulated that a planning application must be approved by the DSD and submitted to the Planning Service by October 31, 2010.
A planning application was approved in 2012, but three years later, work has still to begin.