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City council's planning committee to determine fate of controversial Tribeca plan

A digitally rendered image of how Donegall Street could look if Castlebrooke's Tribeca project proceeds to developement
Ryan McAleer

THE future of one of the biggest ever infrastructure projects in Belfast city centre will be determined by the council's planning committee on Tuesday evening.

Planning officials at Belfast City Council have already recommended that London-based Castlebrooke Investments be granted outline planning permission for the controversial Tribeca Belfast scheme, subject to a number of conditions.

Despite the developer making a series of significant changes to its original bid, the revised proposal has attracted 443 objections.

The project, originally conceived by the former Department for Social Development as the ‘Royal Exchange' project, centres on a series of buildings between Belfast's Royal Avenue, North Street and Donegall Street. Many of the buildings would be demolished under Castlebrooke's current plans, which represents the third incarnation of the project.

However the London firm has said it will retain a series of facades and restore the North Street Arcade “in a new format”. It has also scrapped plans for a massive underground car park and significantly downsized plans for a large retail store. An original bid for a 27-storey tower is gone, with the largest building in the current plans 15-storeys.

Castlebrooke has claimed that 600 jobs will be created during construction phase, with the area potentially housing 1,600 jobs when completed.

A report prepared by city council planners has revealed that London investor has already spent £55m. Castlebrooke estimates that construction costs will come in around £225m, including £17.5m on public realm improvements.

But the Ulster Architectural Heritage has called for the latest proposal to be rejected.

In a statement, the independent heritage body said: “Whatever the unsubstantiated projections for benefit to the city in terms of rates this remains a development primarily about amassing square footage for the developer.

“This application should not be approved, and certainly not for the reason that it is being put forward as ‘less worse' than the previous outline plan. Regeneration is long overdue for this damaged area, blighted as it is by developer land banking, but this type of masterplanning is not regeneration… It is simply exploitation.”

The Department for Communities' Historic Environment Division (HED) has also said it considers that aspects of the proposal fail to satisfy planning policy around built heritage.

Another heritage-led group ‘Save CQ', has called for member of the public to attend Tuesday's meeting at Belfast City Hall.

In a statement, the group said; “We are aware of several councillors who in December 2019 were very concerned about many aspects of the proposal, including the type and volume of housing, the amount of demolition and serious lack of space for arts and culture.

“We hope and expect that the committee will have a robust discussion on Tuesday in advance of making its decision.”

In its report prepared for Tuesday's meeting, council officials said Castlebrooke's plans “are of significant strategic importance to Belfast”.

“The proposals will help deliver a key site for the city, supporting the vitality and viability of the City Centre, revitalising and regenerating the area, supporting job creation and the economy.

The officials recommended the project go ahead, subject to a number of conditions.

It's understood that one condition would involve Castlebrooke developing some form of support employability and skills initiative. It follows the conclusion of Belfast City Council's Economic Development Unit, which has stated its belief that there would be skills shortage in implementing the Tribeca development.

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