LEGAL MATTERS: Taking the reshaping of Belfast from idea to reality

Belfast is changing to adapt to developing modern day demands
Belfast is changing to adapt to developing modern day demands Belfast is changing to adapt to developing modern day demands

BELFAST, just like almost every major city, is changing as it reshapes to adapt to the developing demands of the modern day.

As property lawyers, we see this first hand, as the type of real estate in our city centres, and how it is being used changes along with the needs of our clients, be they developers, contractors or investors.

In a Belfast context, there is a major shift towards encouraging more people to live within the city.

Recent proposals by Queen’s University to build a further two student housing schemes in Belfast are part of a £100 million plan it hopes will contribute to efforts to find up to 3,000 new rooms.

The university has bought sites at Brunswick Street and Laganbank Road while it is also consulting on a third 460-room development project on the Dublin Road on the site of the former Movie House cinema.

The latter development is interesting in itself as the university purchased the site from Kainos as the tech firm downgraded its proposals for a new office in the space in the wake of the pandemic.

It’s part of a wider trend of repurposing the city centre, either through changing the intended use of development sites or by reimagining existing stock.

Aside from the growth of accommodation in Belfast city centre, we have also seen ambitious plans to re-shape the high streets. As trends in retail have shifted, the characteristics of the high street are anticipated to evolve significantly in the coming years.

There have been renewed calls for reform of business rates and planning policy aimed at delivering a more diverse high street and addressing social needs as well as economic sustainability.

Although the pace of change has undoubtedly been frustrated by the ongoing political vacuum, there have been some visible examples of revitalisation.

The former Tesco premises at Royal Avenue (acquired by Belfast City Council) has been temporarily transformed into a cultural hub for events from music to art, workshops and markets.

The aesthetics of the city centre have also been identified for upgrade - public realm improvements have been undertaken in a number of key streets which the Council has partly financed through Section 76 developer contributions.

Indeed, we have seen the pivotal role local authorities have in this transformation, whether through acquisition, planning or the provision of capital grant schemes all aimed at reimagining and diversifying the city centre.

Regularly acting in this space for investors, contractors, developers and others, we have a keen knowledge of the legal requirements associated with bringing projects that will reshape Belfast from an idea to reality.

:: Mark Jameson is property partner at Arthur Cox