Castlebrooke set to unveil £400m master plan - but will it include John Lewis?
THE new London-based owners of the Royal Exchange regeneration scheme in Belfast have submitted a planning application they claim will "revitalise the city" and "deliver thousands of jobs".
Castlebrooke Investments has formulated a "£400 million master plan" to completely transform the area between the Cathedral Quarter and Royal Avenue, which has been neglected in recent years.
Earlier this year Castlebrooke took control of the strategic Royal Exchange scheme, an 11-acre site earmarked for redevelopment in Belfast city which had been acquired by US vulture group Cerberus as part of a loan portfolio bought from Ulster Bank.
It is understood the original debt on the scheme - which comprises the north east quarter of the city in the area bounded by Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, Garfield Street and High Street - was in the region of £40 million.
But Castlebrooke would have paid only a fraction of that, certainly less than £10 million.
The site had been the subject of various proposed projects for nearly two decades, and at one stage had secured planning permission for a £350m mixed use retail and development scheme which had promised to create 3,000 jobs.
The Royal Exchange site has been identified as one of six strategic projects by Belfast City Council in its city master plan because of its of location as a “critical link” between Royal Avenue and the Cathedral Quarter.
A spokesman for Castlebrooke, speaking to the Irish News, said the developers "look forward to unveiling our plans for Royal Exchange in the coming months”.
He said: “Royal Exchange is without doubt Northern Ireland’s most most significant regeneration project with the potential to deliver thousands of jobs, pre- and post-completion, as well as significant investment of over £400 million.
"The investment will underpin the huge commitment already made by the University of Ulster in this key area of the region’s capital city.
"Our vision is to deliver a scheme which will revitalise this part of the city for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland, enhancing the region’s capital city as a great place to live, work, shop and visit.
"It will connect the Cathedral Quarter and the new Ulster University campus to Royal Avenue, enhancing the flow of activity through Belfast’s core city centre."
As well as offices, hotels, apartments, bars and restaurants, the spokesman for Castlebrooke also confirmed that there will also be "a large provision of retail space" within Royal Exchange.
Department store John Lewis has been mooted as a potential tenant Royal Exchange, and it comes as a report by retail strategy consultants Javelin Group said Belfast needs to improve the quality of its shopping offer
The report, which ranked Belfast a lowly 16th in its league table of UK retail venue, said: "Belfast should look to attract more upmarket retailers and the addition of John Lewis would be a major catalyst in delivering this, potentially increasing retail spending in the city by 17 per cent".
Castlebrooke have not confirmed whether they have as yet made any formal approach to John Lewis, which has always thought to favour opening at Sprucefield near Lisburn.