Developer claims funding in place to finish George Best Hotel by June

The New George Best Hotel in Belfast is now due to open in June 2020. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

THE developer behind the long-delayed George Best Hotel in Belfast has set a new opening date of June 2020 after the controversial project was granted planning approval on Thursday night.

Liverpool-based Signature Living, headed by entrepreneur Lawrence Kenwright originally planned to open the hotel in the former Scottish Mutual Building in the summer of 2018. The company bought the listed building behind Belfast City Hall for £6m the previous year.

It was one of three listed buildings acquired by the developer as part of a planned hotel expansion into Belfast.

But planning delays, largely surrounding conservation issues with the £15m project, led to a very public spat, with the Merseyside developer publicly lambasting Belfast City Council.

The council's planning committee finally signed off on a recommendation to approve the 63-bed hotel on Thursday.

The delay in opening the hotel resulted in Signature Living compensating a number of couples who had booked the venue for wedding receptions last year.

In June 2019, the company offered around two dozen Belfast staff, who had been on its payroll since late 2018, redundancy packages or the chance to relocate to its hotels in Liverpool or Cardiff.

In September, Mr Kenwright later put the former Crumlin Courthouse and the former Royal Ulster Rifles Museum on Waring Street on the market. Both had been earmarked for hotels.

However despite the fractious relationship with planners, and threats of pulling investment from Belfast, it's believed the sale is linked to a series of frustrated investors going public over a lack of communication with Signature Living in relation to the state of their investment.

The same month, Signature Liverpool put two of its best known Liverpool hotels on the market for £51m.

Despite the apparent financial issues, Mr Kenwright said yesterday that funding is in place to complete the construction of The George Best Hotel.

In a statement, the Signature chairman said building work “will continue apace”.

However there appeared little sign of work starting on Friday morning.

“We're delighted to have achieved planning permission and finally be on the home straight in the construction of this beautiful hotel,” said Mr Kenwright.

“Restoring listed buildings is not always a smooth ride and it hasn't been so with this hotel, but I'm excited that we are now close to the George Best joining our stable of successful trading hotels.

“We are grateful to our investors for their patience with this development and we will be in touch with them all over the coming weeks to commence the buy-back process.”

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