Landmark city hotel set to make way for social housing

One of east Belfast’s most iconic landmarks, the Park Avenue Hotel, is to be demolished and replaced with social housing.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 8:27 am

The once-popular 56-room four-star Holywood Road hotel, which opened in 1959, closed its doors 12 months ago, and will soon make way for a 90-unit mixed tenure residential development.

Elected representatives at Belfast Council’s recent planning committee approved, without any dissent, the demolition of the former hotel for a “social-led” development comprising 75 apartments, 11 townhouses and four apartments, along Sefton Drive.

The proposal includes communal gardens, provision of car parking spaces, a “tenant and staff hub,” cycle parking, a substation, retaining walls, and associated works including road improvement works at the junction of Park Avenue and Sefton Drive. It will reach a maximum height of four storeys.

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Beannchor, which operates more than 40 outlets including Merchant and Bullitt hotels in Belfast, took over the financially troubled hotel in 2019, from its family owners.

It continued to experience financial difficulties, exacerbated by the current Covid-19 pandemic, and in the summer of 2020 entered into a company voluntary arrangement process, or liquidation, with advisers HNH.

Holywood Holdings Ltd and the Housing Association company Choice Housing made the joint application, which was recommended by council officers.

The council received 75 objections from the public, detailing a host of issues, including over-development of the site, increased anti-social behaviour, reduced local employment, noise, privacy, loss of light, dust, and general disturbance. No statutory bodies made any objections.

A council officer wrote: “Anti-social behaviour is an issue for the operator of the site and the PSNI. There is no determining evidence provided that indicates the proposal would result in anti-social behaviour to the degree that it would be unacceptable in planning terms.

“Any subsidence or structural damage as a result of the development site is a civil matter between the relevant parties. It is the responsibility of the developer and other agencies to ensure that development works are completed in a safe and appropriate manner.”

Alliance councillor Ross McMullan said the new building would have a negative effect on nearby historic buildings, including the Strand Cinema, and would “drown them out with its dominance”.

He added: “The lack of historic appreciation is reflected in the fact there is nowhere in this report that refers to this as Gelston’s Corner, the historic name for this junction. The buildings that have been the focal point for generations will now be drowned out by the proximity, size, and mass of Plot Two, which comes right towards the perimeter line.”