Northern Ireland

Attwood to 'have say' on Athletics Stores building

The Athletic Stores building
Image caption The landmark building is to be replaced by an apartment block (Picture: The News Letter)

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has said he will determine the future of a landmark building in Belfast which has been earmarked for demolition.

Planners had given consent to knock down the Athletics Stores building and replace it with a multi-storey apartment complex.

Belfast City Council was to discuss the decision on Thursday, but the meeting was deferred.

Mr Attwood said he is now "minded" to make the decision.

The future of the building has been the subject of a legal row since plans to replace it first emerged in 2009.

A High Court judge had ordered the Planning Service to reconsider its original decision to allow the scheme.

Judgement

However on Thursday it emerged that a recommendation to approve the application and consent to the demolition was to be presented to Belfast City Council.

That meeting was deferred so councillors can meet with planners next week.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster on Friday, Mr Attwood said he would listen to the concerns of councillors and heritage campaigners.

"Ultimately I will have my say and determine this approval myself," he said.

"I will make a judgment based on where there is economic benefit and where there is a need to protect the built heritage."

The judicial review of the Planning Service's original decision was brought by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.

Its spokeswoman Rita Harkin said: "I'm just amazed that they have come up with this decision.

"To us, this is a fairly clear-cut decision of a building that should be defended in a conservation area."

"There are already many new buildings, including apartments, such as the Obel lying empty."

Warehouse

Carlisle Property Developments Ltd is to transform the Athletic Stores site into a seven-storey complex with 69 apartments, street level shops and basement parking facilities.

The 19th century warehouse on Queen Street is currently occupied by commercial tenants.

"It's buildings like the Athletic Stores that we need to hold for tourism and to give our city a distinct sense of identity," continued Rita Harkin.

"We are seeking legal advice and are prepared to take the department (of the environment) to court again over this highly irrational decision."

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