THE IMPENDING DEATH OF BELFAST – Part II by Am Gobsmacht

Just a quick update on the previous rant.

The Orpheus building (aka the former Co-op building) on York st (along with its Art Deco neighbour)is now gone.

This building is no more.

It has ceased to be.

It’s expired and gone to meet its maker.

This is a late building.

It’s a stiff.

Bereft of life, it rests in peace (pieces).

It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

This is an ex-building.

The Orpheus: Before               The Orpheus: Last week

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The Orpheus: Now

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Furthermore, cursory rants to taxi drivers, pub dwellers and other citizenry has made me aware of a general misconception held by the public that can be summarised as “ach sure, they’ll not be allowed to knock them buildings down” (regarding the remaining buildings in the area).

Well, they/you/we are wrong.

They can.

And furthermore they WILL.

Very few (if ANY) of the buildings in the North st, Kent St, Union st (aka The Belfast Telegraph) area are protected. (The Art Deco Bank of Ireland building was listed but the recent plans to refurbish it never materialised).

Here is a picture (available at the planning office in Linenhall st) of the plans for part of that area:

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You see that blue city block (Site 9) within the red line?

That area includes the Sunflower bar, the odd derelict warehouse and some funky but derelict buildings.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/dec/25/sunflower-pub-belfast-music-under-threat-from-developers?CMP=twt_gu (Regarding the Sunflower)

The plan is to kowp the whole lot and build flats.

So, in case you thought the authorities were acting in the interests of our cityscape and architectural heritage THEY ARE NOT.

As this area stands out-with the neighouring conservation areas developers don’t need permission to demolish these buildings.

As you read this the old redbrick warehouses on Stephen st are being chipped away.

Yup. Red brick warehouses. In every other city in the developed world developers go nuts to get their hands on these prizes to convert them into flats (think of the apartments in ‘Friends’).

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Stephen St, Belfast (What’s left of it) A Warehouse Conversion

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Another warehouse conversion

But not in Belfast. No. Much easier to knock them down and build more profitable apartment blocks.

Now, here is a pic of buildings in Kent st. I warn you, they look unimpressive and you’ll think “erm, maybe the wrecking ball is the best way forward AG? They’re crap!”

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And to be fair, in their current state they ARE.

Now, here is a pic of a former stomping ground of mine, Hardware lane, Melbourne City Centre:

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Architecturally speaking it’s very similar to Kent St; Old warehouses on one side and unimpressive modern buildings on the other, its width is also similar.

It’s an excellent example of what could be done with a bit of imagination.

Granted, it’s in the middle of Melbourne, a massive wealthy city and is a thoroughfare between main streets. If only Kent st were a thoroughfare…

Oh wait, they’re hoping to build thousands of student flats in the area, with the University as the main focus! Problem solved?

Smithfield and Union evidently has its fans at present: http://www.smithfieldandunion.com/home.html

 

Can we not just step back for a moment and consider the following:

1/ We have some nice old buildings remaining in an area that need done-up

2/ Developers need profits

3/ The Ulster University needs accommodation in the city centre

4/ We have an area due east & north east of this area that is ugly, peppered with car parks, awful architecture, offices and has excellent links to the city centre

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.00.33

Look at the number of car parks in this area and look at the development sites.                   Some are on car parks (fair enough) and some are on places like the old Rotterdam bar (the Rotterdam bar was an historic pub converted from a centuries old deportation jail, it was demolished to make way for apartments development).

Why not RE-build and refurbish Smithfield & Union (and save our heritage) and ‘develop’ this area?

That way we get jobs AND heritage AND student accommodation AND long term employment prospects.

Alternatives?

Now, this is just MY idea, one that could be tinkered with and adjusted with upon the receipt of facts and learning from people in the know, BUT just hear me out.

Why not turn Smithfield and union into a conservation area (of sorts or something similar), prohibit the wholesale demolition of any pre-war building in the area (façade retention to be considered) and limit the height of buildings to be no higher than the highest existing building there at present.

The larger buildings could still be converted into flats .

The pre-war buildings would now be preserved either as stand-alone units or incorporated into a bigger building but with the facades retained.

Pedestrianise Union st & Kent st (as has been done in many cities around the world with their pre-war industrial architectural areas) to give the area a more livable feel.

Other suggestions

Now, to go a tad further and incorporate the suggestions of some of the readers of Dr C’s blog we could have the following:

1/ Green spaces in Smithfield and Union area – Instead of building over every single car park in the area why not convert some (all?) into gardens, play parks and or vegetable patches? This idea was inspired by ‘Paul’; – “Probably better leveling them and turn the areas into parks with fountains, gazebo’s, abstract structures, benches etc. It would make the place look a lot better and the greenery would certainly increase my sense of well-being”

2/ Eye grabbing architecture – A difficult one to impose as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid don’t come cheap. I believe this is what was meant by Terry Corr’s comments in the previous blog:

“Right now there is a template for this low cost stick them up quick architecture and we should instead be creating stunning new buildings which set a standard rather than mimick Glasgow’s merchant quarter and the scruffy Templar in Dublin”

BUT, for sake of argument, let’s say we have people of that calibre on our side.

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Let us incorporate all the above ideas in which case;

1/ Smithfield & Union retains its architectural heritage and is partly pedestrianised and has the addition of some new apartment blocks (suitably designed) as well as X amount of new green spaces.

Lovely.

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Renovated business in Smithfield & Union

2/ With the imposition of limits developers have to look elsewhere for places to demolish. The area east of the Cathedral leading up to Corporation square has very little to offer. It’s kind of cut off from the city centre, is a mish mash of turn-offs and unimpressive car parks.

So, why not designate this as an area of redevelopment? Erect schmick, nice, new, shiny buildings worthy of architectural note and have them all arced towards the Ulster University (the main player in the regeneration plan) with pedestrian & bicycle accesses by means or corridors, bridges and paths?

In short we’d have saved the fabric of one historic area, given a new lease of life to another (and no doubt injected a bit of economic life into the Corporation st area), have outstanding architecture in a currently scarred-looking area and have all the student flats we need and in general made two areas a bit more ‘livable’.

As far as plans go, who here loses (apart from developers)?

It’s just an off-the-top-of-my-head plan and very idealistic but it incorporates ideas of readers here and saves the Smithfield and Union area as well as giving the Ulster University what they need.

It also gives Belfast two new areas to show off.

Is anybody interested in cajoling the powers-that-be? Then email the planning office with your thoughts.

As always, here’s a reminder of what you can do to help:

“If you follow this link you can go directly to the application: http://epicpublic.planningni.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NR2M3ISV30000

Simply register and then add a comment (tick the ‘object’ button too).

 

The ref for Northside is: LA04/2015/0577/O , please quote this if you email the planning office; planning@belfastcity.gov.uk

Lastly, if you’re interested in being kept in the loop (come January) then email these chaps: belfastrevival@gmail.com

 

12 Responses to THE IMPENDING DEATH OF BELFAST – Part II by Am Gobsmacht

  1. Am Ghobsmacht December 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    NOTE: That should be ‘belfastrevival@gmail.com’ NOT ‘Hotmail’. No more mulled wine for me….

  2. Perkin Warbeck December 28, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    Belfast could do worse, Am Ghobsmacht, than take a wrecking ball point or two from the Dublin Street Directory of Demolition.

    In 1962 the Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street was levelled to make way in the black hole thus created for the sick architectural joke that is still the Department of Health. From a theatre which knew how to operate to operating theatres which don’t.

    There was something deliciously just about this official act of scandalism, Indeed, poetic justice expressed itself in two ways:

    Firstly, it was as if the style of building – Neo-Grotesque – was specifically chosen to house what is now the government ministry in the Free Southern Stateen which continues to provoke the hollowest of hollow laughter, if that’s what one is after.

    Secondly, it reminds one that the flattened theatre once housed an unbroken tradition of comedy, both homegrown and imported – from Dion Bouccicault to Charlie Chaplin all the way to Cecil Sheridan and Mickser Reid, via Max Wall and the great Schnozz himself, Jimmy Durante.

    What one had learned on the page – Laughter: The Best Medicine in the Reader’s Digest (nach maireann/ r.i.p.) one augmented from the stage. of the Royal.

    When the unpolished demolished Dublin’s Theatre Royal
    They unknowingly upped the ante on J.Durante with style
    Health is now a sick jest
    Directed at the R. Digest
    With patients on trolleys rolling in the holly-bedecked aisle.

    • Am Ghobsmacht December 29, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

      Perkin.

      You need a TV or radio show. Even just a few minutes a week on-air to make the masses think about things differently.

      • Perkin Warbeck December 29, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

        Am Ghobsmacht, a chara,

        Goethe, as you know, is credited with likening architecture to ‘frozen music’. In the German his surname is pronounced akin to ‘Goitre’.

        Certainly, the second g-word is what comes to mind when viewing the contributions of modernist architecture to the bliggarding of Baile Atha Cliath. Architects with hard necks, bloated egos and swollen wallets have for far too long been allowed by the City ‘Fathers’ of Dublin to inflict their abominations on a long-suffering citizenry.

        The only music which comes to mind, frozen or otherwise, is that of Phillip Glass. With its minimalist and mind-numbing monotony it might be described in architectural terms as; reinforced abstraction.

        The time has long since come when the City ‘Fathers’ ought to be made do a DNA test to check their alleged paternity of Dublin / Ath Cliath. DNA being the text for the dual-named city..

        For the past half-century they have complacently presided over the most flagrant example of assymetrical A to E architecture known to the aghast walker gawking south on the eponymous bridge.

        To the east can be seen the storied pane in the eye known as the twelve storey O’Connell Bridge House (b. 1965) while to the west stands four square that blast from a good old brick and mortar past, the five floor Ballast Office.

        Where once the latter had an identical twin on the opposite corner of the bridge, as one elbow is to the other elbow, it now has a glorified advertising hoarding for every drinks company willing to pay over the legal limit, from Guinness to Heineken.

        Whose honeyed message, strive mightily though they might do to dress it up, is still the same: ‘If you wish to be A-holes just bend the Elbow’.

        Hence the origin of the architectural term; A to E. It is patently officious and obvious that the City ‘Fathers’ (alleged) on Liffeyside don’t know the one from the other.

        Keep fighting the good fight, Am Ghobsmacht, in favour of Frozen Music.

        Ceol Reoite abu !

        • Am Ghobsmacht December 29, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

          Now every time I walk along Kent St I’m going to be humming ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and be on the receiving end of weird looks from passers by.

      • Fiona January 7, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

        That’s a good idea!

  3. Colmán December 28, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    It would be interesting to see where Sinn Féin stand on this one. I am worried that no lessons have been learned since the building of Castle Court and the demolition of authentic Belfast.

  4. Gearoid December 28, 2015 at 10:05 pm #

    Another great erudite article, AG, arguing for the preservation of a great city’s architectural heritage which is constantly in danger from the wrecking ball of the philistines. Hopefully someone from the powers that be will come across your very fine contribution and think twice. We definitely need a coordinated public response to this very sad trend.

  5. jessica December 28, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

    AG,
    The north of Ireland could be the wealthiest part of Ireland, but it will never happen while we are within the UK.

    These ideas of yours are great, but require money and at the moment our economic strategy is to fight over the money that London is prepared to throw our way, which currently sits at over £10 billion pounds per year and will be declining year on year until they get shot of us.

    That is the economic reality.

    To disguise the economic impact this is having, do you know that the northern executive have had to borrow over 2 billion pounds and now on top of our economic deficit requiring substantial subvention, we are now also racking up debt which we will have to repay but are in no position to.

    This is to persist the illusion we are better off within the UK, who don’t want us and have bigger problems than northern Ireland.

    Implementing the cuts demanded by London for which they will no longer be paying to delay, would lead to public sector strikes and serious disruption.

    So not only is the money we are borrowing not going to investment projects, but it is being used to delay cuts that London are refusing to pay for, which means this is a financial crisis which is going to totally bankrupt northern Ireland over the coming years.

    At the moment, no one is even talking seriously about what to do about it.

    I expect your admirable efforts are going to reach deaf ears as the apartments will help meet new housing targets.

    If you are serious about wanting economic prosperity in the north, then it needs to be run like a business and no business could operate two dual operational overheads, full duplication of administration, operate over different currencies and with legislative and tax variance.

    Unification is essential, so we first of all need to address how that can be achieved to the satisfaction of both communities throughout the 32 counties.

    There is no difference between southern nationalists and northern nationalists, or southern west brits and northern unionists.

    The UK have made it quite clear they will co operate and assist in any reunification to satisfy northern unionists.

    There is an opportunity here.

    The first two stages have been identified by Terence ONeill and Sean Lamass. We need to unify the power infrastructure and generation throughout this island, invest in renewable energy, we are not even attempting to meet the EU requirements for 2020 and will face heavy fines. That pratt Enda Kenny stood and cried sympathy in paris for an agricultural economy to be afforded leniency on account we have so many cows which didn’t impress anyone and embarrassed anyone interested in Ireland imho.

    We need a long term strategy to 100% renewable energy starting with meeting the EU target of 20% by 2020 of which we are not even half way there and making no serious effort to achieve.

    Reducing our energy costs will help businesses and without it, the north in particular will suffer more business job losses as those in Ballymena.

    Next, we need to increase revenue coming in and tourism is the obvious answer,

    There are 9 million visitors to Ireland each year. Less than 1.8 million tourist visitors come to the north.

    Growth is a third of what it is in the south for the reason, tourist visitors to Ireland are coming to see Ireland, not the UK.
    Northern Ireland will always be part of Ireland, it will not always be part of the UK and is not any part of Britain. This is being addressed on an all island basis but far too slowly which is costing the northern economy. It needs political support which requires agreement.

    The conflict here is over. The IRA have gone away, and can no longer be blamed on our political failures regardless what crap the states and papers put out.

    The troubles offer a significant tourist attraction with worldwide interest. A history of the troubles museum at the maze could make use of the listed buildings and if done right would be the single biggest tourist attraction on this island. I would estimate 5 million visitors in year 1 which more than doubles the giants causeway which would also benefit as well as the titanic quarter and the cathedral quarter bringing us to potential revenue for your project ideas.

    If we could also agree a long term conflict settlement, we could develop the land at the maze building a conflict resolution centre and using the mile upon mile of land along the motorway to revive the maze stadium project which had merit we could have decades of construction, tourism and knock on trade.

    The current forecast by tourism Ireland are for 9 million visitors, I believe with unification we could grow this to 18 million in well under 10 years with global good will towards Ireland and through co ordinated all island tours we could gradually make sure that all of the island benefits, and not just Dublin.

    The southern state has access to low cost borrowing and the UK I am certain would get behind a project to build the Irish economy which would bring us closer together as nearest trading partners.

    I have read your blog AG and you have asked yourself why you cannot have an irish identity within the UK. You are as equally Irish as anyone in any county of Ireland, let us discuss what the political circumstances that would make a 32 county ireland acceptable north south and east west between both of these islands.

    Until we start considering all options seriously, we are all beating our heads of a brick wall AG.

    • Am Ghobsmacht December 29, 2015 at 10:05 am #

      Hi Jessica

      I appreciate your comments but this is a matter of urgency (imho).

      The Orpheus was demolished last week, the Metropole a number of weeks before that and Stephen st is being chipped away NOW.

      Architectural heritage is (now) something that can unite people regardless of their constitutional opinions.

      So, I’m not going to become distracted by other topics, indeed I plan to refrain from the more controversial topics (I think I’ll bury my head in the sand come arching season) and stick with this (mainly, but not always).

      Belfast is being destroyed NOW and we need to act NOW.

      • jessica December 29, 2015 at 10:17 am #

        Fair enough Am Ghobsmacht

        I wish you every success and commend you on your efforts.