Northern Ireland

Belfast City Council approves demolition of Athletic Stores building in Belfast

The Athletic Stores building
Image caption The landmark building is to be replaced by an apartment block (Picture: The News Letter)

Belfast City Council's town planning committee has backed a decision to demolish a landmark Victorian building in the centre of Belfast.

The Athletic Stores building is to be replaced by a multi-storey apartment complex.

The application was supported at a meeting on Thursday night.

The future of the building had been the subject of a legal row since plans to replace it first emerged in 2009.

A legal bid to stop the Athletic Stores site from being torn down and rebuilt was brought by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.

It launched a judicial review of the Planning Service's original decision.

In January 2010, a High Court judge ordered the Planning Service to reconsider its original decision to allow the scheme.

An application was presented to Belfast City Council in June with a recommendation to approve.

Councillors approved the application during a meeting on Thursday.

In a statement, the council said the planning application had been considered by its town planning committee.

"A proposal to reject the opinion of the planning manager and refer the application to the planning management board for adjudication was unsuccessful.

"The view of the Planning Service to permit the demolition/redevelopment of Athletic Stores thus stood.

"The council cannot raise the matter again as it was dealt with by the town planning committee under its delegated authority."

'Jewel in the crown'

Sinn Fein councillor Mairtin O'Muilleoir said members from his party voted against the Planning Office proposal to demolish the former Swanston's Linen Warehouse/Athletic Stores at last week's meeting of the town planning committee.

"Sinn Fein believes this building is a jewel in the crown of Belfast and epitomises the unique character Belfast needs to protect if it is to market itself as a distinct, modern European city respectful of its past while moving into the future," he said.

"We are particularly disappointed that neither developers nor planners engaged with the Forum for Alternative Belfast, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) or Belfast Buildings Preservation Trust to discuss their detailed proposals on how this key building could be saved.

"We will continue to support efforts to prevent this building, and the city's heritage, being bulldozed."

However, the DUP's Ruth Patterson said while the building looked beautiful, it was structurally unsound.

"If we were to refurbish it as it stands at the moment it would cost over £4m, that would only give back a building worth £1.75m," she said.

"That in anyone's book is economically unviable.

"The developer very much wants to put back a building that's in keeping with the area."

Rita Harkin from the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society said the society had written to the Environment Minister Alex Attwood following the granting of approval.

"The UAHS has written to Mr Attwood, to ask if he is to call in the application and take the final decision himself as he promised," she said.

"If it is not overturned at this stage then the society may be obliged to use its very limited resources to challenge the department once again in the High Court.

"This is the only route available to challenge such decisions in the absence of third party rights of appeal."

Environment Minister Alex Attwood had previously said that he would determine the future of the building.

In a statement on Monday a DoE spokesman said: "Following the decision by Belfast City Council the Environment Minister Alex Attwood has asked officials to provide him with information in relation to DOE planning's recommendation to approve the application."

Carlisle Property Developments Ltd is to transform the Athletic Stores site into a seven-storey complex with 69 apartments, street level shops and basement parking facilities.

The 19th century warehouse on Queen Street is currently occupied by commercial tenants.

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