We need to reinvent the centre of Belfast
It is impossible to swim against the economic forces that lead to banks shutting down their high street branches – the rise of internet banking and declining footfall in the traditional city centre to name but two – and it is, of course, not a problem unique to Belfast.
However, vacant buildings rapidly become derelict buildings and the impact of this on the urban environment can lead to a further downward spiral in the quality of our inner cities.
The bank buildings in Belfast were in many cases built during the linen and shipbuilding industrial boom.
They are important therefore both as historic reminders and architectural symbols of what Belfast city once was, and with the right will, could be again.
The wealth that gave rise to them mean that they were inevitably built to a high specification with impressive high ceilings, generous internal spaces and beautiful finishes.
Yes there are technical challenges in converting bank buildings, but these are not in any way insurmountable and with enough imagination they could take on all sorts of uses.
Fundamentally, for Belfast city centre to thrive and grow, it is essential that it becomes a true 24-hour city like the most successful cosmopolitan European cities.
For this to happen it needs to reverse the move to the suburbs and reinvent the city centre as a place both to work and to live.
As an architect, I am convinced that the former bank buildings could be successfully converted into high-quality apartments with a rich mix of occupation and ownership – individuals, private and social landlords.
Not only would this regenerate Belfast city centre, it would also be highly sustainable in reducing car journeys and city centre congestion.
I can think of a hundred good reasons to live in the city centre – and I speak as someone who does – and would find it hard to come up with one good reason why not.