Belfast 15-storey residential block approved despite concerns about height and tourist letting

An artist's impression of the proposed Bruce Street residential block Credit: Local Democracy Reporter
  • By Michael Kenwood, Local Democracy Reporter

A new 15 storey apartment block has been approved off Great Victoria Street, despite objections on the basis of height and the potential for "tourist letting."

At Belfast City Council's Planning Committee this week elected representatives gave unanimous approval to a council officer recommendation for "outline permission" on an application for a 15 storey residential apartment building at Holmes Street, to the rear of Bruce Street, in Belfast city centre.

The indicative plans for the £6 million development include 68 residential apartments, comprising 32 one bedroom apartments, 35 two bed apartments and one studio apartment.

It will be located next to two other schemes planned for this area - a 15 storey purpose-built student accommodation building currently under construction at Bruce Street, and a new apartment-hotel, known as Bedford Yards, at 31-33 Bedford Street.

An assessment by the council's conservation officer states "the proposed building is of excessive scale in terms of height." The council has received three formal written objections by mail.

The Belfast Civic Trust objected, stating: "The height of the building is inappropriate and out of character for the area especially given its impact on the nearby Linenhall conservation area and the Dublin Road area of townscape character.

"Previous applications at this site were for more modest six story developments. The facing on the proposed development bears no resemblance to the red brick vernacular of the local area or conservation area.

"The development does not add to the streetscape and is overly dominant."

A resident from City Gate, Sussex Place, wrote: "The lease on building to landlords needs to state for residential use only - no short term lets. There is a significant shortage of residential living properties in the city centre as multiple have been silently changed into short term air bnb.

"25 percent of the flats in my residential block are now for tourists. This tourist letting is happening everywhere across the city silently, and is impacting the hotel occupancy which was at 65 percent last month. It needs to be stated as a clause that if bought to let, it must be for rentals, NOT tourists/short term lets."

Another resident from Duncairn Gardens stated: "80 apartments and not one parking space - shocking! (It will be a) nuisance to the future residents and surrounding streets.

"There will be people living in the city centre who need a car to drive to rural offices, (and will have) rural clients etc. Why is there no provision of at least a one or two storey basement or parking at ground level ?"

The council planning report for the application states: "The site is a central and sustainable location for residential development and the proposal would support increased city centre level in line with the Belfast Agenda. The principle of residential use here is considered acceptable.

"Having regard to the location of the site and its surrounding context which includes a number of tall buildings, it is considered that the site can accommodate a building of the scale and massing proposed, in keeping with the character and appearance of the area. The detailed design of the building would be subject to reserved matters approval.

"The proposal would have an estimated construction cost of £6 million. Approximately 400 construction jobs would be created.

"The operational phase will deliver approximately four full time jobs. Consultees including DfI Roads, NIEA, Historic Environment Division, NI Water, DfI Rivers, the Council's Landscape Team, Environmental Health Department and Economic Development team have no objection to the proposal subject to conditions."

Councillor Carl Whyte, Chair of the Planning Committee, said: "The addition of new homes at Holmes Street also builds upon council's commitment to attracting more residents into the city centre, by bringing vacant sites back into use as high-quality, accessible and centrally located homes."

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