Plans revealed for new £10m '21st century aquarium' in Belfast's Titanic Quarter

The proposed aquarium attraction, due to be located in Belfast's Titanic Quarter
Gareth McKeown

PLANS have been revealed for a new £10 million marine tourist attraction in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

English firm ReefLIVE is behind proposals for an "aquarium for the 21st century" on the Queen's Road, just a stone's throne from the award-winning Titanic Belfast attraction.

Due to open in early 2021 if granted planning approval, the proposed aquarium, to be located opposite the Titanic Hotel, will be the largest ocean visitor attraction on the island of Ireland and is expected to attract more than 300,000 people each year.

At present the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry is the north's only aquarium. The facility re-opened in 2016 after almost two years of closure to allow for a £1.5m refurbishment.

The developer behind the new Belfast project has said a rising tide of public interest in marine life, coupled with concern over environmental issues facing species and habitats around the world, has driven the move into Northern Ireland.

“Belfast has become one of the UK's leading hubs for such family friendly experiences and we see the city as a thriving tourism destination," a ReefLIVE spokesperson said.

"We are confident in our decision to choose Belfast over other top UK cities for our first investment of this kind.”

“ReefLIVE's Belfast aquarium has been designed as an aquarium for the 21st century and will place the visitor at the heart of the marine environment to give them a unique insight into the amazing stories of life beneath the waves.

"As part of our work, establishing solid partnerships with educational institutions will be of utmost importance to us at all phases of the facility's programme development," they said.

The aquarium building will be designed by Ethos Architects, and subject to planning approval, will open in the spring of 2021. Ahead of the expected submission of a planning application in early October, a pre-application public consultation will take place next month.

Brian Kelly, a director at the project's planning consultants, Turley added:

“Turley is very excited to be part of this innovative project and we look forward to seeing the ReefLIVE Aquarium situated in the great company of neighbouring attractions as a best-in-class education landmark. This substantial investment will support the ongoing development of the area as a distinguished tourism destination."

The pre-application community consultation drop-in event will take place in the Titanic Hotel on August 20 from 3pm to 8pm.

The proposed £10m investment from ReefLIVE continues a programme of ongoing development within Belfast's Titanic Quarter and comes just two months after plans were revealed for a 280-bedroom hotel at Hamilton Dock.

Hospitality specialists the JMK Group, which has been investing in luxury boutique hotels in the Republic of Ireland since 2013, believes the new multi-million pound project can be up and running by summer 2021.

No brand for the hotel has yet been been designated by JMK, but it currently works in collaboration with the likes of Hampton by Hilton, Aloft, Seraphine and Holiday Inn.

In recent years the Titanic Quarter has benefited from significant investment, including the £28m Titanic Hotel, housed within the former Harland & Wolff drawing offices, which opened in September 2017.

Meanwhile, Belfast-based adventure company We Are Vertigo opened Ireland's first indoor skydiving centre on the Queen's Road in February last year and added an 110ft long indoor Ninja Warrior assault course to the facility in January as part of a £1m investment.

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