THE new owners of Forestside have announced they will set about revamping the popular south Belfast shopping destination within months, but what do Michael and Lesley Herbert’s plans look like?
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme after news of their £42 million deal to buy the retail complex became public on Thursday, Michael Herbert said he would proceed with plans for a new ‘food village’, and is considering developing a new cinema as part of the couple’s move to develop Forestside into both a leisure and shopping destination.
“There are going to be three major restaurants,” he said. “We have them all under offer.”
The developer expects the building work to begin in January 2024, supporting around 50 construction jobs, with the new hospitality businesses creating 100 permanent posts when they commence trading.
The reason the work can begin soon is because the shopping centre’s previous owners, Kildare Partners, had already secured planning permission from Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council to build three new restaurants at Forestside.
The planning approval secured by Forestside Acquisitions Ltd in June 2020, involves redeveloping part of the car park at the Upper Galwally entrance.
The approved plans show the restaurants will be 1,400 sq ft, 3,445, sq ft and 2,755 sq ft.
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“We’re going to fast track it to build it quickly,” said Mr Herbert.
Forestside currently has 1,260 car parking spaces. The new restaurants are expected to remove 60 spaces.
But Mr Herbert told the BBC that he is looking into extending car parking in other areas.
“We’ll lose a few spaces, but we’ll manage to free up spaces in the centre, so the net loss of spaces is nil,” he said.
Despite originally planning to retire after selling their KFC restaurant empire in 2020, Mr Herbert, who is 66, joked: “I was going to retire but that lasted two weeks. My wife said I was annoying her and I had to get out of the house.”
Mr Herbet said the couple firmly believe in the future of ‘bricks and motor’ retail.
“People will go to the internet, but a lot of people want to feel it, touch it, buy the groceries and they want to go for a day out,” he said.
“That’s why we are doing the food offering and maybe in future we might do a cinema here.
“So you come here and you make it a day out. That’s the way it’s done in England and America. We want to do that in Northern Ireland.
“We’ve done a lot of analysis, we’ve looked at other centres in England and other centres in the United States and this is the future.
“We don’t see why it won’t work in Northern Ireland.
“We’ve got confidence in the future, or we wouldn’t be buying this centre.”
In 2021, Mr Herbert bought Barry's Amusement in Portrush. He told the BBC the reason he did so was because other bidders were seeking to clear the amusements and build on top.
The leisure site was later leased to the Curry family, who run Curry's Fun Park in Salthill, Co Galway.