Northern Ireland

Belfast Royal Exchange: Uncertainty over regeneration scheme

Image caption There is uncertainty about the future of a major regeneration scheme in Belfast

There is uncertainty about the future of a £360m regeneration scheme in Belfast, after an executive department ended an agreement with a developer.

The Royal Exchange project is intended to regenerate an area between Royal Avenue and the Cathedral Quarter.

The Department for Social Development (DSD) had a development agreement with Leaside Investments.

It has now ended it, saying the firm had not provided enough information to show it could deliver the scheme.

The project, as originally proposed, would have potentially created up to 3,000 jobs.

Leaside, which is part of the William Ewart group, owns a significant amount of property in the relevant part of the city, amounting to about 50% of the land needed for Royal Exchange.

The department's role would have been to make it a statutory development scheme, allowing it to vest property and assemble the remainder of the project.

Image caption Parts of the area between the Cathedral Quarter and Royal Avenue have been neglected in recent years.

Royal Exchange, which covers 11 acres, was granted planning permission in 2012.

The proposal included the construction of apartments, a hotel, offices and 50,000sq m (539,000sq ft) of new retail floor space.

Leaside had Ulster Bank loans which are understood to have been sold to the Cerberus investment fund in May.

DSD official Mark O'Donnell told a Stormont committee that the area still needs "comprehensive development" and there could be a new competition to find a development partner.

Image caption DSD official Mark O'Donnell told a Stormont committee that the area still needs "comprehensive development".

He also said that DSD was attempting to recover costs of £730,000 from Leaside, relating to work carried out on the project.

Royal Exchange has previously been proposed as a possible site for a John Lewis department store.

However, the retailer has only ever expressed an interest in opening a store at the Sprucefield retail park near Lisburn.

A spokesperson for the DSD said: "The department gave careful consideration before terminating the Royal Exchange agreement with Leaside Investments.

"Our overriding aim is to ensure that the north east quarter of the city, including Royal Exchange, is developed for the maximum economic benefit of everyone.

"The minister remains committed to transforming this part of the city, which has been in a state of disrepair for many years.

"The department will continue to work in partnership with all stakeholders to make sure we deliver the best scheme possible."

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