Northern Ireland

Stormont blocks Belfast city centre public realm improvement proposal over new Glider route plan

Offer to redevelop Bankmore Square was opposed over plans for the new north/south Glider route

How the new student accommodation scheme will look alongside the Kainos' office building on Belfast's Dublin Road.
How the new student accommodation scheme will look alongside the Kainos' office building on Belfast's Dublin Road.

A Stormont department has advised a leading IT firm not to improve public land in Belfast city centre when it builds a new office block, due to plans for the new Glider route in the city.

It emerged at a Belfast City Council Planning Committee meeting this week that Kainos had offered to spend considerable sums of money to regenerate public realm space around Bankmore Square when it builds a new office building at the former site of the Movie House Cinema, only to be told not to by the Department for Infrastructure.

Committee members approved two major applications for the space at Dublin Road, both of which will be executed together in a collective agreement between the two applicants.

The first application by Kainos is for a proposed 14 storey office premises, with retail/restaurant units at the ground floor. The plan includes external landscaped terrace areas, public realm works, and associated site works at 14 Dublin Road.

The second application by Queens University is for the erection of a 17 storey student accommodation block.

Construction of both buildings will begin in September.

Misgivings were aired by councillors over an offer by Kainos to regenerate parts of  Bankmore Square for the public, an offer which was opposed by the Department for Infrastructure, which saw it as interfering with their planned north/south Glider bus plans.

Alliance councillor Tara Brooks, who raised the issue at the Belfast City Hall meeting, said: “Bulldozing a park to accommodate a road is very much like 1960’s planning.”

She said added: “I would urge DfI to think about the proposals in great detail while they are developing (the Glider plan) and try to accommodate more than just a bus and cycle lane when they develop their detailed proposals.”

A council officer told the chamber: “Initially the proposals did include contributions to enhance the footways around the site, and Bankmore Square itself. But as you will see from the report we had an issue with DfI Roads, in terms of improvements to Bankmore Square.

“It is logical that it would include that, as it is where the potential retail and restaurant unit would be, so you would have an attractive front when you are sitting out. It is improving Bankmore Square from a place making perspective.

“But the issue DfI raised was their concern about the potential impact on their protected road corridor for the Glider route. That is why that element was withdrawn.

“The applicant could come back with future proposals for enhancement once the route for the Glider is known, so they can work with DfI in terms of coming up with an appropriate design which will suit the needs of both parties.”

Kainos bought the Movie House cinema site on the Dublin Road in February 2019, but changes in patterns of work during the pandemic meant the company did not need as big an office as originally planned, and it subsequently sold half of the site to Queen’s.

After the cinema was demolished the site was given to Trademarket, an outdoor food and retail space, on a short lease and a “meanwhile” licence, which will end on July 31 this year.