Developer revives bid for controversial £55m Belfast office development next to the Markets

An artist's impression of Kilmona's proposed office block development.
Ryan McAleer

A BELFAST developer looks on course to successfully revive a controversial £55 million office block scheme beside the Markets area of the city.

Kilmona Property’s efforts to develop four office blocks next to Central Station was originally granted planning permission by Belfast City Council in June 2017.

Featuring around 280,000 sq ft of grade A office space, it would become one of the city’s largest office developments.

But a strong opposition campaign led by residents mounted a successful legal challenge, with the High Court quashing the council’s decision in May 2018.

The residents’ concerns chiefly relate to the mass and scale of project, which tops out at 14 storeys.

The High Court upheld two of the eight grounds for challenge mounted by residents.

Headed by high profile developer Paddy Kearney, Kilmona has now brought a renewed application back before Belfast City Council’s planning committee.

Planning officials have once again recommended that the project be granted planning approval.

In a report set to go before Thursday’s meeting of the planning committee, where councillors will consider the recommendation, the officials state they had re-determined the application taking into account the court’s findings.

The result is ultimately the same as 2017: “Having regard to the development plan, planning policies and relevant material considerations, the proposal is considered acceptable.”

The recommendation is dependant on what’s known as a section 76 agreement, which typically involves a developer agreeing to carry out improvements in the surrounding area.

Visual showing the proposed development's proximity to residents.

Kilmona previously agreed to a £230,000 contribution for public realm works. The latest agreement includes that same commitment along with additional commitments relating to a series of tunnels beneath East Bridge Street, that are subject to an ongoing regeneration project.

The developer has said the office scheme will involve 350 construction roles, and provide space for around 2,500 people.

But the new council report confirmed that the application has once again attracted strong opposition, with 252 letters of objection recorded.

Tracey Conlon who represents the Save the Market campaign said residents were “horrified” to learn that the project had been revived.

Fionntán Hargey of the Market Development Association said there was anger among locals.

In a statement, he said: “At a time when the pandemic has taken a critical turn and everyone is preoccupied with staying safe, the community is put in a dangerous position of having to organise against this proposal.”

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