Northern Ireland

Belfast Royal Exchange bought by London-based developer

There is uncertainty about the future of a major regeneration scheme in Belfast
Image caption The original plan for Royal Exchange was drawn up the William Ewart group

A major regeneration scheme in Belfast has been bought been a London-based developer.

Castlebrooke Investments has taken control of Royal Exchange, a swathe of properties between Royal Avenue and the Cathedral Quarter.

It was sold by the Cerberus investment fund which had control of the loans underlying those properties.

Castlebrooke said it is formulating new plans for a mixed use development.

The company said it would be working closely with Belfast City Council.

The council said it welcomed the news that the scheme had a new owner and hoped to see proposals for a revised project "come forward by early summer".

The original plan for Royal Exchange was drawn up the William Ewart group.

It included the construction of apartments, a hotel, offices and 50,000sq m of new retail floor space.

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

Its development costs were estimated at around £360m.

The scheme has planning permission but a development agreement with the Department for Social Development (DSD) lapsed last year.

The involvement of DSD is crucial because it has power to vest land and assemble all the property needed for the project.

The properties bought by Castlebrooke represent about 50% of the land needed for Royal Exchange as originally planned.

However, the scheme will be revised in light of other developments taking place in the city centre.

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.

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