What’s the problem?

Below are our objections to Phase 1B of the development plan, which is the most recent phase out for public consultation.

#SaveCQ – What are the problems with the current Royal Exchange development proposal?

1 Piecemeal development:

Castlebrooke Investments is seeking permission to develop this scheme in phases.

Increases the risk for the city, benefiting only the investors. A scheme of this size is complex, and the people of Belfast need to see the whole to understand how one phase impacts the next.
2 Domino effect:

What happens in this phase will have consequences for the next one, but we are not being given the full picture.

If this phase gets planning permission in its current form, the historic buildings on North Street will be under greater threat. All options for preserving built heritage should be made available, including the option of building on the existing surface car park instead of demolishing the North Street Arcade.
3 Nowhere to live:

This phase contains only five extremely small residential units, but thousands of square metres for offices and retail.

Belfast desperately needs housing. There are currently 40,000 households on the social housing waiting list, 22,000 of which are in housing stress and 10,000 of which are statutorily homeless. We should be building 11,000 new homes per year, but currently it’s fewer than 6,000. A scheme which comprises majority office and retail space in the city centre will leave the area deserted after 6pm. New homes in the city centre would help to meet this urgent need and bring the area back to life.
4 Lack of community engagement:

The community was given less than seven days’ notice that this consultation was happening, and less than two weeks to respond to it.

The developers have an obligation to make this process as transparent as possible and to adjust their plans to meet public concerns. The consultation process so far has fallen far short of established best practice. The information presented at the consultation was difficult to understand with some street names incorrectly labelled, indicating a lack of knowledge of the local area. The short notice given by the developers and the timing of the consultation during the July holidays meant a significant reduction in its scope.
5 Creating the vacancy of the future:

This phase of the development, like the scheme as a whole, is based on presumed increasing demand for retail and office space. 

More space for retail is an outdated strategy for Belfast’s regeneration. The city already has some of the highest retail vacancy rates in the UK at 17%. In line with current thinking in urban planning, Belfast city needs a selection of diverse and varied uses. Affordable housing and adaptable, affordable workspaces and cultural provision will make the city a diverse and lively area.
6 Policy breaches:

The current proposal for phase 1b breaches a range of built heritage planning policies.

The extent of proposed demolition, the style, scale, bulk and massing detailed in the current plans breach both conservation area guides and built heritage planning policy.

Planning policy exists to set an appropriate standard of development. Weak enforcement leads to a poor quality built environment.

7 A dangerous precedent:

This is one of the first major development to come before new planning powers within Belfast City Council.

The investors will be hoping to get their proposal through planning in Belfast City Council based on the approval for Royal Exchange that was granted by the former Department of the Environment in 2012. This sets a dangerous precedent, and potentially undermines the council’s ability to make its own decisions about what happens to the city, based on what its residents want.  
8 Falls short of ambition:

The proposed regeneration will make it harder for Belfast CIty Council to deliver on its stated ambitions for the city.

Belfast City Council’s Regeneration and Investment Strategy 2015 sets out the council’s ambition for the city to increase its residential population, make it shared, distinctive, prosperous, and connected. The proposed scheme does not meet those ambitions and contradicts the plans laid out in the strategy document.
9 A missed opportunity:

The site of the proposal is strategically crucial for Belfast’s future.

The site of the proposal is the key linkage between the cultural quarter, the commercial quarter, and the new Ulster University campus. There is huge potential to enhance one of the most distinctive and historic parts of the city, to put affordable housing closer to jobs, and to create world-class public space and amenities where they will be enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors.
10 Privatises the city:

The current plans show lots of new pedestrian streets, but no information about who will own or manage them.

Privatising streets and public spaces is a worrying international trend. It is a huge threat to the openness of cities, and could have a detrimental effect on how our city can be experienced and enjoyed. The ‘so-called’ public square at the Rosemary Street Church, shown as part of the scheme will be a privately-owned square surrounded by dead frontages, and will not contribute to or enhance, the city environment.