Business

Developers behind multi-million office development hopeful of planning approval this year

Gareth McKeown

THE developers behind a multi-million office development in Belfast city centre are hopeful of securing planning permission before the end of the year.

A consultation process opens this week for the new mixed-use project in the Smithfield area of the city.

The proposal, which covers a one and a quarter acre site between Gresham Street and Winetavern Street includes provision for first class office space as well as new units for independent businesses and retailers. The site is currently being used as a car park.

Updated plans, unveiled to The Irish News ahead of the consultation show four buildings, which form the basis of the 235,000 sq ft 'Building Blocks' development. This includes a "world-class" 115,000 sq ft eight-storey office block, known as the 'Mill Building', which once complete is set to cater for up to 1,500 people and a smaller four-storey office development, 'The Gresham Street Building'. The plans also include affordable space for start-up business in 'Sawtooth Studios'. The listed Butcher's Building on Gresham Street is to be retained, with a court yard to be put in place to connect the buildings within the development. Adding to the planned office space the developers are hoping for a mix of small local traders, growing indigenous businesses and larger corporates on the ground floor of the buildings to complement the scheme and bring the area back to life.

Bywater Properties and Ashmour Developments are behind the ambitious project, with FCB Studios responsible for the design and collectively they hope to regenerate an underutilised part of the city centre.

Speaking to The Irish News, Patrick O'Gorman from Bywater, said they plan to submit an application for outline planning permission in October following the conclusion of the 12-week public consultation. They remain hopeful the green light could be given for development before the end of this year.

"We want to get on site as soon as possible," he said

"I'd love planning by the end of the year. That gives us October, November and December to do that. Getting on site in 2019 is achievable".

Mr O'Gorman said he is hopeful the scheme will be operational, in at least some form, in 2021, and will be a "business ecosystem" in the heart of the city taking inspiration from the likes of Manchester's Northern Quarter and The Lanes in Brighton.

"This scheme's got to work for everyone and has got to be beneficial for everyone and that's a key part of the next couple of months.

We want to make we get the planning stage right, we want to make sure we get the design right and if we get that right we're confident we'll attract the right tenants.

"I see this as an attraction for people living in Belfast and tourists coming in. It's not just about Monday to Friday, it's 24/7."

Theo Mitchell from Bywater, believes the development can provide a boost to an undeveloped area.

"I think this bit of the city centre has been a bit neglected for a while so the hope would be this really lifts the Smithfield area," he said.

"The hope would be that we can do something quite distinctive for Belfast and really build on the character of the Smithfield area that's maybe been a bit lost."

The former Butcher's Building on Gresham Street will be open from Saturday as consultation headquarters for the duration of the process , providing information on the planned Belfast development.

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