Stunned silence greets ranting letter from hotel developer

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th April 2017 - ''Lawrence Kenwright from Signature Living.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th April 2017 - ''Lawrence Kenwright from Signature Living.''Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

The Liverpool based developer behind the delayed George Best Hotel project and other schemes in Belfast has threatened to pull up to £40 million in funding from the city in an astonishing open letter to Belfast City Council.

Lawrence Kenwright, whose business Signature Living also has plans to redevelop the former Crumlin Road courthouse, published the letter to Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey and chief executive Suzanne Wylie under the heading ‘Incompetency within Belfast City Council’.

In it, he berates the council as “openly hostile towards new investors and business,” and claims that it has contributed to delays in getting the George Best, in Donegall Square South, open on time.

Mr Kenwright anounced a partnership with the family of the late Manchester Utd and Northern Irleand star earlier this year but recently had to postpone the opening from this month to early next year.

The project at the listed building is now subject to an investigation after the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division raised concerns over “unauthorised works”, claiming that they “fail to be informed by a conservation-led approach”.

“I was led to believe that it was your dream to not only increase visitor numbers but also lead a business-friendly city that welcomes investment and new development,” wrote Mr Kenwright.

“Sadly, the dream you talked about during our first interaction at MIPIM has now turned into a living nightmare,” he added referring to the start of his association with the city almost three years ago at the annual international development conference each year in Cannes.

He used this year’s event to launch a plan to restore the Floral Hall at Belfast Zoo, a long abandoned dance hall still owned by the council.

“When Signature Living announced plans to develop three hotels in Belfast in early 2017, I always had high hopes of maintaining a constructive relationship with you given our shared ambition to put the city on international tourist map,” he continued.

“It has become crystal clear to me that we are working with a local authority that serves the needs of a select few and is openly hostile towards new investors and business.”

Although at least four hotels have opened in the city centre since Mr Kenwright announced his plans, he goes on to accuse the council of operating a “system of anti-development”.

“As you know, we had originally planned to invest £80m into Belfast,” he said.

“Your actions mean we are now going to revise that figure and stay at around £40m - this is purely as a result of the way your officers have behaved. Our experience with Belfast City Council has been – by a country mile – the poorest compared with other UK local authorities.”

Belfast City Council declined any opportunity to comment on the matter.