Regeneration project for Belfast city centre gets green light


A REGENERATION project costing £360 million (€454 million), which aims to revitalise Belfast city centre by creating new retail, hotel and property developments, has been given the green light by the North’s Minister for the Environment.

Alex Attwood has decided to grant planning permission to the Royal Exchange project, one of the largest commercial planning applications to be considered in the North.

Mr Attwood said: “The proposal aims to create a new environment in the city and revitalise an area of Belfast that has been without meaningful development for a number of years.

“It is estimated that it will bring 3,000 much-needed jobs – 1,000 for the construction phase and 2,000 jobs in retail and leisure once completed.”

The Royal Exchange will be constructed in the North East Quarter of Belfast, and will include approximately 50,000sq m of new retail floor space and cafes and bars.

The regeneration project, first unveiled nearly six years ago, also includes plans for a 25-bedroom hotel, more than 200 apartments, offices and a new culture centre.

Mr Attwood believes the Royal Exchange will also help to protect the “historic fabric” of Belfast because the proposed scheme includes plans to restores listed buildings and facades.

As part of the new development the company behind the proposal, Leaside Investments, has undertaken to give the city’s oldest building, the Northern Bank on Bridge Street, a new lease of life.

The decision to grant planning permission has been welcomed by Belfast City Council. Yet some property experts in Belfast are questioning whether the timing is right for such a major commercial development in the city given the slowdown in the local economy.

However, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) believes that the new scheme is a positive development for Belfast.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Royal Exchange is exactly the type of city centre retail development which we have always championed, rather than unsustainable out-of-town hypermarkets. This is a long-term project for the city centre and the developers have the challenge of securing a large anchor retail store, but it is important step forward for the city as a whole.”