Castlecourt looks to broaden horizons

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Castlecourt

Belfast is back on the drawing board with schemes aimed at reviving two bleak, run-down areas of the city centre.  The challenge, this time round, is not only to give them a makeover worth hundreds of millions of pounds, but to create a city with soul.

Helen McGurk talks to Westfield about its plans for the North West Quarter.

News bars and restaurants are springing up in Belfast at an alarming rate.  The Cathedral Quarter is booming.  The city is reclaiming its industrial heritage with an iconic Titanic project in the pipeline and the Waterfront area, once an industrial wasteland that lay idle beside a murky River Lagan, has been transformed by investment into a glamorous skyline.  In two years’ time the £350m Victoria Square scheme will be up and running.  This is a city in transformation, but the work is by no means complete.

The Department of Social Development recently outlined finalised plans for the redevelopment of the northern part of Belfast city centre – christened the North East and North West Quarters.  The latter spans around 10 unprepossessing acres to the rear and sides of the Castlecourt Shopping Centre – an area dominated by surface car parking, shabby, vacant buildings,and waste ground.  But a renaissance is on the way.

The masterplan for the North West Quarter has been prepared in two parts.

Part one is included within the main shopping area – notably Castlecourt Shopping Centre and Smithfield market.  It is bounded by Millfield, North Street, Royal Avenue and Castle Street.  The main objective for this part is to maximise the retail-led regeneration.

Part two aims to integrate physical, social and economic regeneration of the wider North West Quarter of the city centre outside the main shopping area which extends to the north of North Street and to the west of Millfield and Carrick Hill.

Australian shopping centre giant Westfield, which owns Castlecourt, has been given the first opportunity to come up with proposals for part one of the scheme.  It currently owns about 50 per cent of the earmarked site.  The rest is in the hands of Belfast City Council and a few high-net worth individuals.  These include concert promoter Eammon McCann and Co.Down property developer Frank Boyd.

Westfield said it will concentrate on developing the area to the north of Castlecourt – Smithfield market, Gresham Street, Millfield and North Street.  It is planning to triple the size of the current Castlecourt offering to around 900,000 sq ft, adding another 100 shops to the current 80, and creating more than 3,000 full and part time jobs.  The existing car park which has 1,600 bays, would be expanded to 3,000.  The price tag is a cool £300 million – which would bring Westfield’s total investment in the centre to £1/2 billion since it acquired it from MEPC.