Another own goal for George Best Hotel as staff are laid off and redeployed

The George Best Hotel in Belfast has laid off or redeployed staff as its opening has been further delayed
Gary McDonald Business Editor

PLANS to open the long-delayed George Best Hotel in Belfast have hit another major stumbling block following a decision to either lay off or redeploy staff to Britain.

And it raises questions as to whether the 63-bedroom £15 million luxury boutique hotel at the former Scottish Mutual building will ever open in its original proposed format.

Liverpool developer Signature Living, which has been blighted by problems since it acquired the property, confirmed that it has conducted an "operational review", which has resulted in staff being offered posts at its other sites in Liverpool or Cardiff.

A relocation assistance package - believed to include flights, travel and accommodation - was offered to anyone who decided the take up this option, with a view to them returning to Belfast once the hotel eventually opens (it's already more than a year behind schedule).

But those who haven't taken up this option are being compensated (effectively paid redundancy) and "fully supported" as they move into new opportunities.

The developers say this amounted to "no more than ten people", some of whom have already secured alternative roles in other venues in Belfast.

It's the latest in a long-running saga at the hotel, which has encountered continued delays with anticipated opening dates, due to policy and building work process protocols taking longer than originally anticipated.

As with many historic buildings, restoration is not always a straightforward process, and delays can be inevitable.

But Signature Living has had a fractious relationship with Belfast City Council, with whom it continues to work on procedural issues and building requirements.

In May Signature Living confirmed it was selling two of its most high-profile hotels in Liverpool – 30 James Street and the Shankly Hotel – to help it fund six other projects including the George Best and Waring Hotels in Belfast.

Then earlier this month the Irish News revealed that the hotel has been forced to relocate two weddings to the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle and Larchfield Estate near Lisburn because it could not honour the bride and groom's bookings.

The ongoing debacle raises questions over whether Signature Living will be in a position to proceed, at least within its original timetable, with a 43-room hotel on Waring Street (the first phase is due to open in September despite the site still lying idle) and the £20m transformation of the former Crumlin Road Courthouse into a 77-bedroom hotel.

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