Civil servants to look at Belfast redevelopment plans

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The First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street, Belfast

By Una Murphy

CIVIL SERVANTS in Northern Ireland’s Department of Infrastructure are to consider the demolition of buildings around the historic First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street close to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter following a vote by Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee on March 15.

The Save the Cathedral Quarter Campaign and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society have objected to the redevelopment of the site, including the demolition of buildings in Royal Avenue and Rosemary Street and the creation of new streets.

Councillors accepted a recommendation that the second phase of a redevelopment ‘masterplan’ by private developer Castlebrooke Investments would be given the green light, apart from the demolition of a boundary wall which surrounds the church in Rosemary Street. The Planning Committee heard that negotiations were still ongoing between the developers and the church authorities about the wall.

Dr Pamela Topping, who made a submission to the committee on behalf of the church claimed, there had been “poor communication” between the developer and the church authorities on this issue and more discussions were planned.

Ulster Unionist Party councillor Chris McGimpsey said he had worshipped in the church many times and that he had “concerns” about the plans to redevelop the area around the church.

Sinn Fein councillor Geraldine McAteer said that the proposal formed part of a wider ‘masterplan’ for the city by the developer and included the construction a 27-storey building between First Presbyterian Church and the historic Assembly Rooms, which she said would “break the line of heritage buildings“ in the area. She said councillors “needed to take connaissance of the wider scheme”.

At a ‘pre-determination hearing’ of the Phase 1b planning application in February, the Planning Committee agreed to ‘walk the site’ and view the interiors as well as the exteriors of the listed buildings, including a former Masonic Hall in Rosemary Street, where there is a valuable mural by local artist John Luke.

The council has received 215 objections to the Phase 1b planning application and two letters of support, the Planning Committee heard.

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