By Una Murphy
Councillors on Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee have deferred a decision over whether to approve the redevelopment of a site around Royal Avenue, North Street, Berry Street and Rosemary Street which community organisations including Save CQ and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society have objected to.
As previously reported by VIEWdigital, opposition to “Phase 1b” of the proposed new Royal Exchange development in Belfast city centre, has been growing from local business in the area as well as arts groups.
Following a ‘pre-determination hearing’ open to the public, councillors agreed to ‘walk the site’ and view the interiors as well as the exteriors of the listed buildings which are part of the redevelopment plan, including a Masonic Hall where there is a valuable mural by local artist John Luke.
The Planning Committee meeting also heard from Dr Pamela Topping from First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street who said the congregation – many of them elderly – were concerned about security and car parking during the proposed redevelopment of the site which includes a six-storey block to be built less than eight metres behind the church, which is the oldest church building in Belfast.
The committee heard from architect Dawson Stelfox who is working with the developers, Castlebrooke Investments. He said the redevelopment plans for the area – close to city’s busy ‘Cathedral Quarter’ – was one of the largest private sector developments in the city in the past 25 years. He said the commercial office space in the plans would help fund the conservation of the listed buildings.
The councillors decided not to debate the full application for planning permission at their next meeting on Thursday but to defer their decision until March. The Planning Committee had received two letters of support and 209 objections to the developer’s proposal.
In the meantime Planning Committee members have decided to have another discussion about the proposal and asked for a briefing from council planning officials on how this proposed development by Castlebrooke ties in with what was referred to as a regeneration “masterplan” by the developers for this part of the city, as well as the council’s own development plan for Belfast which is due to be published soon.
The site visit will take place before next March’s Planning Committee meeting.