Northern Ireland

‘I have a huge amount of interest in the city being a success’ - Belfast entrepreneur Pete Boyle on hopes for the city despite frustration with council planners

Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about  the development of Belfast.
PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN
Pete Boyle Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about the development of Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

A Belfast entrepreneur behind successful ventures like Argento and Let’s Go Hydro has accused the city council of standing in the way of the city’s potential.

Following a candid interview with the Sunflower owner Pedro Donald, who said he was selling up and leaving a city that has become “a dump and derelict,” Pete Boyle gave his own take on whether Belfast is in decline.

His latest inner-city project is a major restoration of the City Printing Works, a former Victorian warehouse on Queen Street – with around 30% of the space already let before it goes to market.

“I have a huge amount of interest in the city being a success,” he told The Irish News.

“But you do have massive problems in the city and it’s frustrating you know.”



He said this included the council holding on to too many ground floor car parks, rather than selling or developing them.

“I had a developer in Belfast last week, who currently works in Dublin and London, and he couldn’t believe the number of vacant sites that were car parks on the ground,” he said.

“The bulk of them are owned by Belfast City Council. You tell me, how many diggers are on those sites in the last 30 years – not one of them.”

This month, it was reported that a frustrated Belfast City Council may step in over delays to the £500m Tribeca development – which was supposed to deliver a massive reconstruction across a 12-acre site littered with derelict buildings in areas like Royal Avenue, North Street and Donegall Street.

Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about  the development of Belfast.
PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN
Pete Boyle Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about the development of Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

Mr Boyle said: “That has been going on since I was a street trader 30 years ago. People have been taken out of the offices and shops on North Street, being told this mega-development was coming.

“But here we are today, that site’s still lying derelict and the council still hasn’t forced them to sell the site or break it up.

“If you own a listed building the first thing you should do is fix the roof , dig the foundations. But that developer hasn’t started a single thing.”

Like all cities, he said Belfast’s decline in retail through a move to online shopping was “frightening”.

“I remember the millennium celebrations in the city, all the roads were closed because so many people were walking in to see the fireworks display.

“It was amazing, we had peace, a huge gathering of over 100,000 people. But this last new year’s I went into the city centre and most of the bars were closed.

“There was no public event. Culture Night was cancelled because it was too successful, too many people came in.

“I just think it’s a disgrace, but nobody wants responsibility. So instead of trying to deal with the issue of too many people, they dismissed it altogether.”

On the increased prevalence of drug use in the city centre, Mr Boyle said: “We’ve a heroin addict outside our shop every day of the week.

“We found a dead body in the public toilets on Lombard Street.

“If you’re a drug addict on Royal Avenue, people will give you money and food, you can buy drugs cheaply around the corner and a charity will give you free needles, why would you go anywhere else?”

Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about  the development of Belfast.
PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN
Pete Boyle Pete Boyle speaks to the Irish News about the development of Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

He said cultural changes such as working from home and more people choosing not to spend money in pubs or restaurants was another common problem facing Belfast.

“The problems here in Belfast are not unique. But the only people that can solve them is Belfast City Council.

“It should be a positive thing they own so much of the land, they should be able to create a brand new city on all these vacant sites.

“But they need to get to work, these things don’t build themselves.”

Not wishing to paint an overly gloomy picture of the city he has built his fortune in, Mr Boyle adds: “Another thing I have to say though is that it’s January, where everything looks grey. Nobody goes out, but if you come back here in the Spring when the sun’s out then everything looks better.

“As a company we want to fix things, listed buildings are our speciality and if we can get our hands on more of them‚ we’ll fix them.”

Belfast City Council said it recognised the importance of developing the city centre and making it an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest.

It said the Belfast City Centre Regeneration and Investment Strategy set out the council’s ambitions.

“Our priorities include increasing city centre living, creating a greener, more connected city centre and managing the retail offer,” a spokesperson said.

“A number of major projects are underway, through our Future City Centre programme.

“These include the new Belfast Stories visitor attraction at the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street; an ongoing procurement process seeking a private sector partner to work with us to develop £630 million of multi-site, residential-led, mixed-use developments and deliver on city centre living on Council and other public sector lands including a number of council owned surface level car parks, as well as, the redevelopment of Cathedral Gardens into a unique world class public space.

They added that community safety officers also work with the PSNI and other statutory partners “to address the complex issues of anti-social behaviour and drug use in the city centre and advocate for evidence-based, long-term solutions to these issues”.