One of East Belfast’s most iconic landmarks is to be demolished and replaced with social housing.
he former 56-room four-star hotel, located on Holywood Road, which opened in 1959, closed 12 months ago and will soon make way for a 90-unit mixed-use residential development.
Elected representatives of the Belfast City Council Planning Committee approved the demolition of the old hotel for “social” development comprising 75 apartments, 11 townhouses and 4 apartments, along Sefton Drive.
The proposal involves hard and soft landscaping, including communal gardens, the provision of car parking spaces, a ‘tenants and staff center’, bicycle parking, a substation, ground support and associated works, including road improvement work at the junction of Park Avenue and Sefton Drive. It will reach a maximum height of four floors.
Beannchor, which operates more than 40 outlets, including the Merchant and Bullitt hotels in Belfast, took over the financially troubled hotel in 2019 from its family owners.
She continued to experience financial difficulties, exacerbated by the current Covid-19 pandemic, and in the summer of 2020 began a process of voluntary arrangement, or liquidation, with HNH advisers.
Holywood Holdings Ltd and the housing association company Choice Housing made the joint application, which was recommended by council officers.
The council’s demand report states: “There is a need for social housing in this housing need area in the Middle East of Belfast which includes the joint landlord areas of Sydenham, Edenvale, Inverary, Dundela and Ashmount. As of March 2020, there were 934 applicants for social housing, of which 522 were under housing stress.
“126 housing units had been allocated until March 2020, while the housing need projected over five years was 258 units. These factors support the case for granting a building permit in principle subject to problems of acceptable details.
22 trees will be removed, with around 70 replacement trees provided, with other shrub and amenity plantings also included. There are a number of mature trees on the site which must remain as they are subject to a tree preservation ordinance
The report states: “The majority of the existing trees of visual significance along the front of the Holywood Road site, and one significant tree within the site, will be retained. The replacement plantation and the need for social housing are considered to outweigh the trees to be felled and the objections of the tree manager.
The council received 75 objections from the public, detailing a host of issues, including excessive site development, increased anti-social behavior, reduced local employment, noise, privacy, loss of light, dust and general disturbances. No statutory body raised any objections.
The council official wrote: “The response from the NI Housing Executive indicates a need for social and affordable housing in East Belfast.
“Antisocial behavior is an issue for the site operator and the PSNI. There is no conclusive evidence provided to indicate that the proposal would result in such antisocial behavior that it would be unacceptable in terms of planning.
“Any subsidence or structural damage resulting from the development site is a civil matter between the parties involved. It is the responsibility of the developer and other agencies to ensure that development work is completed in a safe and proper manner.
The report adds, “There is no policy requirement for commercial / non-residential uses to be retained or continued at this site. “
Alliance adviser Ross McMullan said the new building would negatively affect nearby historic buildings, including the Strand Cinema, and “drown them under its rule.”
He added: “The lack of historical appreciation is reflected in the fact that there is nowhere in this report that refers to it as Gelston’s Corner, the historic name for this crossroads. Buildings that have been the focal point for generations will now be drowned out by the proximity, size and mass of plot two, which runs straight to the perimeter line.
Despite this, there was no dissent from elected members on the proposal to accept the nomination.