Delays of up to 18 months in the renovation of Northern Ireland’s new city center are “a joke,” a local politician said.
independent union councilor Bill Keery criticized Bangor’s plans at a recent special meeting of the Ards and North Down council planning committee, in which the elected representatives once again agreed to a plan to redevelop the Royal Parade after a long delay at Stormont.
Mr Keery said he was “disappointed” that no change would be seen in downtown until the end of 2023.
He said: “This project that we have been working on for so many years will not start until the end of next year – that worries me.
“I was elected for the first time in 1997, and even then we were talking about the development of Queen’s Parade. I was then the only person on the planning committee who is still on the committee now, and I’m still being told that it’s still over a year away.
“We are a joke to people outside. We don’t have to give them dates, we have to give them something they can see, like a digger in place to show that something is moving. I’m not very happy with it.”
The £50 million Bangor rebuilding project finally got the green light in March after being held up in Stormont department for over a year due to flooding concerns.
The proposed scheme, designed by Bangor Marine Ltd, involves extensive work in a run-down area of the new city.
It will include the construction of new homes, a 66-room hotel, a cinema and entertainment complex, a public area scheme, new streets, event space, and new cafes and restaurants.
The former B&M Bargains, Oxfam and Hospice stores on Main Street will be demolished, along with other buildings on King Street, Southwell Road and Queens Parade.
The developer said the project will create about 100 jobs per year during construction and another 700 jobs when it is “in operation”.
In May, Bangor received city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, along with seven other cities in the UK.
A developer spokesperson responded to Mr. Keery at the planning meeting: “I’m sure a number of committee members share the frustration, but we need to step back for a moment and appreciate the scope of the development that is being proposed.
“There are a number of preconditions and your planning team has worked very hard with us to reduce those preconditions and find ways to expedite the implementation of the scheme once it is in place. But there are some essential conditions that need to be worked out.”
Another developer spokesman told the Planning Committee: “For us, this is a collection of buildings, an amazing opportunity, but a significant development.
“Each of these buildings has a huge amount of work in the overall £50 million scheme.
“The disappointment that there will be no excavator on site until next year does not mean that the people working on the project will not have energy.
“Take the blueprints and information at this stage to get to the site, submit a full building application, work out the full details of the structure, and start the diggers and people – that’s essential.
“I agree that the lack of activity on site is frustrating, but there is a huge amount of work to be done in the background to get planning and construction drawings. Activity will take place, but not overtly.”
Mr Keery replied: “I understand how much work it will take to tie all the loose ends together. But the general public is fed up and tired of listening to councilors tell them start dates for Queen’s Parade.
“Even if it were possible to get the JCB to demolish the building and trace it as the start of the development of the Queen’s Parade, it would reassure the general public that this council means what it says.”
A council official told the committee: “There are about 58 conditions associated with this development, and many of them detail further research that needs to be done.
“Some of them are works that must be completed within a certain time frame – for example, demolition of a building cannot be carried out on March 1 and August 31 until it has been assessed by a competent environmentalist in terms of active bird nests, etc.
“Others include updates to nesting birds between certain dates, as well as archaeological work to be done. Many of these conditions result from responses to counseling. The works should be carried out by a joint design team on the council to advance the work on the public realm that needs to be done.
“And it would be remiss not to mention the fact that the developer could be in place now, if not for the 13 months that were before the department (Storont). But I understand the frustration of the participants.
“I repeat once again – our planning department cannot oblige the developer to perform work after the fact. A temporary condition will be attached to the building permit, condition number one, according to which development must begin before the expiration of five years.
“But it’s legally impossible to force a developer to start early.”