Sunflower owner vows to fight plans which could see city centre bar demolished

Owner Pedro Donald outside his bar. Picture Declan Roughan
Owner Pedro Donald outside his bar. Picture Declan Roughan

THE owner of one of Belfast's best loved bars has vowed to fight plans which could see its demolition.

The Sunflower, on the corner of Union Street and Kent Street, is under threat of closure if plans for a redevelopment of the area between Royal Avenue and Carrick Hill goes ahead.

The Northside regeneration scheme aims to build student halls and apartments and has earmarked the area around the Sunflower with red lines, meaning existing buildings would be demolished.

It could take up to three years for the bar to be demolished once the plans get underway.

Owner Pedro Donald, who took over the bar in 2012, said he only found out that his business could be demolished when he went to a consultation event about the plans.

He said: "They had all these plans laid out and it was then that I realised that the bar would be removed as part of it."

"I went to a meeting with other traders here who will be affected and the department. However it was like talking to a brick wall. Their attitude was when it would happen, not if."

Mr Donald added: "It is frustrating. You spend so long doing the bar up and then people come and can undo that work. My vision was long term."

Regulars and fans of the pub have expressed their anger and sadness at the news on social media.

Patrons praised the bar for their vibrant arts and music programme, with some even suggesting that a protest might be on be the cards.

Previously known as the Avenue Bar, the hostelry was attacked on several occasions during The Troubles.

A car bomb exploded outside the pub in 1973, while three people were killed and ten injured when loyalists sprayed the bar with gunfire in 1988.

Windows at the bar were also smashed during rioting by loyalists in 2013 linked to the Union flag protests.

Shortly after taking over the bar, Mr Donald was forced to take on the Department for Regional Development to keep the Sunflower's famous security cage in place.

The DRD argued that the cage made the footpath too narrow, but Mr Donald lobbied successfully and painted the cage and added hanging baskets.

He said: "An expert in town planning has said to me that this business of drawing a red line is really outdated. We are not against the redevelopment of the area - it needs it - but we believe existing buildings can be accommodated."

"I saw a programme about the Temple Bar in Dublin. In the 1980s the area around it was a mess. They appointed a team of architects and planners and kept the existing buildings in place.

Mr Donald added: "The other problem we have here is that no-one will buy around here or invest because this red line has been imposed."

However, the Sunflower owner said the recent transfer of planning powers to Belfast City Council has helped his case.

Mr Donald said: "We can now approach councillors, which makes things easier. Civil servants just don't want to know. We have spoken to three parties on the council and they have indicated they support our side of things."

Northside Regeneration, who claim the area will grow as an entertainment hub following the redevelopment, said they would "welcome the opportunity to discuss these outlined plans with the Sunflower bar licensee in due course."