Belfast councillors back controversial Cathedral Quarter plan despite opposition to redevelopment

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By Michael Kenwood

Belfast Councillors have given the go ahead for the controversial Cathedral Quarter Tribeca plan, the largest regeneration plan the city has seen in a generation. 

The council planning committee last night voted unanimously by 10 votes to four to green light the £500m urban regeneration scheme. Sinn Fein, DUP, UUP and Alliance voted together to see the plan through, while the Greens, SDLP and People Before Profit voted against the scheme.

The public gallery was packed over the three hour committee meeting, and a woman was asked to leave as she voiced her concerns during councillor’s questions. The woman was heard shouting “You’re taking an absolute bomb to the Cathedral Quarter.. You’re not listening to the people of this city – and it’s a disgrace”

Tribeca Belfast is a £500m urban regeneration scheme by Castlebrooke Investments on a 12-acre site located beside St Anne’s Cathedral bounded by Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, Lower Garfield Street and Rosemary Street.

The plans involve the pedestrianisation of North Street, a new North Street Arcade, a ten storey office block, the reduction of Writer’s Square by over 50%, and the introduction of new streets and green spaces. It will involve residential, business and commercial space.

There will be a series of full demolitions of non-listed buildings along Rosemary Street, North Street, Temple Court, St Anne’s Court and Donegall Street.

Planning permission had already been granted for the first phase, with last night’s meeting confirming the revised plan formed after last year’s consultation. It represents one of the biggest private sector investments ever made in Belfast.

A council planning officer told the committee the development would create 600 jobs per year during construction and 1600 per year ‘during operation.’

The officer said despite the extensive criticisms made the ‘balance had not been tipped in terms of the wider regenerative impact’ and recommended the plan to councillors.

Representatives from the Historic Environment Division at the Department for Communities stated while the majority of the proposals had ‘no demonstrable harm’, added the proposed tower blocks would appear ‘monolithic’, would ‘impact adversely on the conservation area’ and would have ‘significant detrimental effect on the Cathedral Quarter.’

Dr Agustina Martire, lecturer in Queens University in the School of Natural and Built Environment, and representative of the voluntary organisation Save the Cathedral, told councillors the development would ‘only inflate rent prices and push more people out of the city’. She said the failure to meet Belfast Agenda minimum capacity for social housing, and demolishing over 75% of the area ‘with the weight of all its memory and history for private property was ‘unacceptable’. She also condemned the planners lack of provision for arts and culture, and pleaded with the committee to ‘develop, not demolish’.

Joseph Watson, Chairman of the St Anne’s Trust, told councillors the cathedral trust was not ‘in principle’ against the scheme but said aspects should be ‘revisited’, stating the plan would have ‘negative impact on the setting of St Anne’s cathedral.’ He said the cathedral trust opposed the reduction of Writer’s Square as it would ‘prejudice the purpose of the cathedral, and reduce the tourist potential.’ He also said the trust had ‘serious concerns over shadowing and the loss of light’ created by a new ten storey block opposite the cadthedral.

Neil Young, chief executive of Castlebrooke Investments, said: “This is the start of a major regeneration for a vital part of Belfast city centre and we are delighted that approval has been granted. It sends a clear message to other investors that the city is open for business.


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