Redbrick lumps the size of breezeblocks were found beside the Scottish Mutual Building on the pavement at the corner of Bedford Street and Donegall Square, surrounded by red dust. The masonry appeared to have fallen overnight.
Police cordoned off the area and Belfast City Council officers have instructed the administrators in control of the property to take a survey of the building to make sure there is no further risk to life.
SDLP councillor Donal Lyons took pictures of the scene early in the morning just after the police cordoned off the area.
He said: “Obviously the main thing is that no one was seriously injured or worse. We’re talking about chunks of masonry falling onto a footpath here – if it had happened during the day the consequences don’t bear thinking about.
“There is a clear need to rethink our approach to heritage buildings in Northern Ireland, and we’ve been calling for a joint approach to protect the little we have left. Ideally this would be between councils, which are best placed to intervene, and the Department for Communities, who have responsibility and ultimately the budget.”
He added: “Of course heritage isn’t the only issue here. Empty buildings become run down and run down buildings can have a huge impact on an area’s fortunes – and in this case it’s become dangerous.
“The shortfall in council’s powers have been known for a good while now and there have been various commitments to bring a Dilapidation Bill through the Assembly to address the shortcomings. Edwin Poots gave his commitment to act urgently on this exactly a year ago.
“But since the consultation happened in 2016 there’s been no progress on the bill. As a result councils are operating with one hand tied behind their back.”
Earlier this month it was confirmed that a group of 50 local businessmen had agreed to work with Signature Living, the company who owned the building when it went into administration, to save the development and its investments. They formed the George Best Hotel property company led by Co Antrim businessman Stephen Kearney.
Work on the hotel was originally due to have been completed by June 2020. But in April that year work was halted when the owners, Bedford Hotel Ltd, a subsidiary of Signature Living Hotels Ltd, went into administration.
Over £10m had been spent on the project to that point.