Monday, 17 April 2017

A lot has happened in a year and a half:

·         A front for a weapons company’s pension scheme bought up a fair whack of the Kent st area

·         The Ulster University did a grand job of ridding Belfast city centre of 30% of its art deco buildings (including the last art deco ball room in the city – well done people….)

·         The old buildings on North st, Kent st and Stephen st were kowped:    (And oddly enough some of them were demolished DAYS before they were due to be listed. Odd? Not in Belfast...)

Potential warehouse conversion - Belfast

No longer a potential warehouse conversion - Belfast

Warehouse conversion - NOT Belfast

So now the area has so few old buildings left it’s next to impossible to designate the area as a conservation area. That means ‘developers’ (I prefer the term ‘Bland Apartment Specialists’ myself or BAS for short) will not need planning permission to knock down a century old building.

That’s right. If you try to build a conservatory that reaches further than 3m from your outer wall then the planning authorities shall come down on you.

If you try to build a shed too close to the road, you’ll be ordered to cease and desist.

You may not build a house from only stone.

You may not use big windows in the country.

BUT you may knock down an old warehouse. Or any old building for that matter if it’s not listed/in a conservation area (though even that doesn’t always help).

Surely this is a bit ass-about-face?

As mentioned in previous blogs, industrial conversions are all the rage in places like New York or Melbourne (expensive properties too). They evidently have appeal. In fact it’s a specialist industry in its own right people make a living out of it:

"Here's one we made earlier..."

Yes, there is demand for it. But this wasn’t just conjured out of thin air.

The Bland Apartment Specialists/BAS are an international bunch and see things like so:
Square meterage and how many bland apartments can be squeezed onto a parcel of land (Melbourne city centre has become a veritable pincushion for buildings known as ‘needles’ as in skinny sky scrapers). That’s it. How it affects the city or surrounding environment matters not.

Once the BAS realise that they cannot erect their ‘exciting new development’ on the site of a certain building then that site is of no use to them. Like termites they move onto the next site and try to erect their mound there.

So, said building, now safe from the BAS can take a new lease of life in the form of a conversion which requires people of talent and vision.

The key ingredient however is the safeguarding of the building in the first place. If there are no controls regarding its demolition (like present day Belfast) then it is viewed as a site and not a building.

Sites are valuable and the BAS will pay top dollar for them.

Hence ‘doer-uppers’ and aspiring renovators are priced out as the profit from refurbishing a building is instantly eliminated as soon as the building is priced as a ‘site’ with the potential for a BAS product.

Belfast has an abundance of carparks and derelict sites just north of the city centre near Sailorstown. This would be ideal land for redevelopment and skyscrapers and whatever else the BAS think a city needs in order to look like every other city in the western world.

The city centre’s pre-war buildings should be developed in tandem with these to offer a variety of architectural appeal. (Many cities in central Europe were developed like this e.g. Prague, Vienna, Zagreb, Krakow)

This means the city would have BOTH aspects of redevelopment instead of only one (the one that the rest of the world has).

What Belfast city centre needs is protection for its skyline and pre-war buildings. Let them build needles or skyscrapers or a city of rock from the bleached skulls of pterodactyls if they so wish in the Sailorstown wasteland but just let Belfast city centre remain as Belfast, not ‘Anywhere UK’ or Ballywherever or Blandville or whatever the BAS would have it look like given the opportunity.





To do so we need stricter planning regulations regarding pre-war buildings.
If you have a few moments and are suitably vexed then please write to the following people and suggest change:

Or just cut and paste this:

To whom it may concern
The level of destruction in Belfast city centre this past year and a half has deprived the city of some of its character and the northern quarter in particular has been scarred irreparably.

As a result there are now only around FIVE art deco buildings remaining in the city centre.

With suitable incentives the owners of the now destroyed buildings could have renovated or altered the buildings to suit their needs/profit margins but at present the regulations and planning laws do provide such an incentive.

I would ask for a review and tightening of the current procedures and regulations as they are clearly lacking in terms of protecting Belfast’s architectural fabric and visual appeal.

It is not an unreasonable expectation that the city looks after its assets especially as it appears that they can be demolished on a whim.

Kind regards


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