25/05/2010

Cuts Hit Royal Exchange Project

Although detailed plans for a huge Belfast city centre regeneration scheme are due to be lodged with planners later this year, it now appears that the £360m Royal Exchange may be 'put on hold.

A planned Department of Social Development (DSD) contribution of £110m to the imaginative Cathedral Quarter development - which was set aside for land acquisition and urban regeneration linked to the scheme - will have to be returned to the executive's central kitty.

The project aims to transform a square mile area between Donegall Street and Royal Avenue.

The former DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie previously said the scheme could create 2,000 construction and 1,000 permanent jobs in retail and leisure.

With additional cuts of £128m having just been imposed on the Stormont Executive from Westmoinster, it is understood DSD is concerned that its urban regeneration budget could be one of the areas where the axe is likely to fall.

However, the current DSD Minister Alex Attwood said he would be battling to make sure as much of the money as possible is returned to his department.

Key features of the proposed development include a department store, retail units, offices, restaurants, cafes, a hotel, 700 car parking spaces and arts/cultural floor space.
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Around 200 residential units would also be provided, including 20% for affordable housing.

Royal Exchange Consortium Ltd is made up of Northern Ireland companies William Ewart properties and Snoddon Construction along with ING Real Estate, which is Dutch-owned.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIRTA) has expressed concern on the withdrawn of funding.

Glyn Roberts, NIIRTA Chief Executive said: "As an organisation whose members champion town centre regeneration we are disappointed that funding for such a vital project as the Royal Exchange is being shelved.

"While we fully understand the difficult financial situation Minister Alex Attwood is in, we would urge the Executive to support him by ensuring that town centre regeneration projects continue to receive funding from his department."

He continued: "Our town centres are under massive threat from over a dozen major out of town developments and so funding for projects that will create new jobs and attract more footfall for existing retailers is absolutely vital for the future of our town and city centres.

"Strong and vibrant town centres create new jobs and private sector investment which is essential if we are to move toward a sustainable recovery."

See: Deadline Set For Royal Exchange Plans

(BMcC/GK)

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