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1. Conservation Area

A large portion of the city is within a conservation area (City Centre Conservation Area etc). High rise buildings in the city centre are likely to be so adjacent to protected  zones that they will have a significant impact on them. The high rise is unlikely to be sympathetic to the Victorian / Edwardian nature of city centre conservation areas. Tall structures will often have an impact far beyond their immediate vicinity and would be insensitive to adjacent conservation areas, thus breaching relevant Planning Policy.

    Environmental Objectives

The Department's objectives in exercising its planning functions within the Conservation area are:

  • to prevent insensitive development and redevelopment;

  • to enhance the intrinsic character of the Area, and to set off its features of merit;

  • to protect and enhance views into and from the Conservation Area;

  • to protect the general amenity of the Conservation Area by discouraging inappropriate development;

  • new buildings will be expected to take account of the character of their neighbours. They should, in mass and outline, by sympathetic to the rhythm of the street scene.

  • development near to, and visually related to the Conservation Area will be required to be sited and designed in scale, form and materials so as to be in harmony with the buildings and general appearance of the Conservation Area.

2. Planning Policies

A high rise development in the city centre will often breach the following planning policies:

PPS 6 - Development affecting the setting of a listed building.

PPS 5 - Retailing and Town Centres.

Policy BH 11

Development affecting the Setting of a Listed Building

The Department will not normally permit development, which would adversely affect the setting of a listed building. Development proposals will normally only be considered appropriate where all the following criteria are met:

(a) the detailed design respects the listed building in terms of scale, height, massing and alignment;

(b) the works proposed make use of traditional or sympathetic building materials and techniques which respect those found on the building; and

(c) the nature of the use proposed respects the character of the setting of the building.

The setting of a listed building is often an essential part of the building's character.

Any proposals for development, which by its character or location may have an adverse affect on the setting of listed buildings, will require very careful consideration by the Department.

The design of new buildings planned to stand alongside historic buildings is particularly critical. Such buildings must be designed to respect their setting, alignment and use appropriate materials.

Planning Policy PPS 5

The Department wishes to emphasise the importance of urban design within town centres and will require development proposals in town centres to make a positive contribution to townscape and be sensitive to the character of the area surrounding the site in terms of design, scale and use of materials of both the buildings and the space around the buildings.  New development within town centres should minimise visual, functional and physical disruption. Insensitive development, which disrupts the scale and rhythm of townscape, will be resisted. Building design will need to be architecturally sympathetic to locations, such as Conservation Areas or the settings of listed buildings.  The Department may prepare development briefs for development opportunity sites, which would set out the appropriate design guidance.

Physical Environment of Town Centres

The quality of the environment in town centres is of great importance.

  • conserving and enhancing historic buildings and townscape.

3. Effect of Development on Belfast Hills

Belfast is a city in an attractive setting with the Lough and surrounding hills, High rise development affects views of the hills from the city and also has a detrimental visual effect on views of the city from the surrounding hills.  At a time when efforts are being made to protect environmentally the Belfast Hills, the context of the city within the valley surrounded by hills should not be destroyed by inappropriate high rise development.

4. Sensitivity to Vernacular of City Centre

It is easier for a low rise building (e.g. up to 6 storeys) to respect the vernacular of the city centre and the Conservation Areas therein.

High rise buildings have an impact far beyond their immediate vicinity and are seldom in tune with the Victorian/Edwardian theme of the city centre core.

This heritage should not be dwarfed or downgraded by a massive scale modernist development more appropriate to an American city. Sympathetic design does respect the Victorian/Edwardian heritage whilst many modem large-scale high rise buildings do not.

5. Effect on perspective of City Centre Streets

Many city centre streets have buildings at similar heights on both sides and provide a good visual perspective. The parallel streets on either side of the City Hall provide a perfect frame for spectacular views to the Belfast Hills. In particular the perspective down Chichester Street to the Waterfront Hall would be destroyed by inappropriate high rise development.  Chichester Street, Royal Avenue, Arthur Street and the Linenhall conservation area all provide examples of streets with perspectives which would be destroyed by high rise development.

6. Effect of High Rise on General Character of the City

Why should Belfast be a high rise city? There is no proof that building up is more economical than low rise higher density building, it is not more environmentally sustainable. Is it perhaps our desire to compete in the architectural fashion parade? To create iconic buildings at the expense of our wonderful built heritage?  High rise would be a fundamental change to the overall cityscape. Irish cities and towns have generally avoided the high rise building culture. This has enabled these towns and cities to maintain their distinctive Irish feel, which is uniquely valuable from a tourist and cultural perspective. If the need for new development could not be met by lower rise building careful zoning could sensitively locate higher rise on the edge of the historic centre.

7. Physical Effect of High Rise Buildings

High rise buildings can cause a funnel effect resulting in increased velocity of wind in city streets. In addition in a northern city such as Belfast shadows from such buildings cut out sunshine.

8. Tourist Trade

The City of Belfast still retains its Victorian/Edwardian character from the large number of buildings from this era remaining in the city. This was the time of Belfast's previous zenith.

We are in favour of the reinvigoration of the City Centre with sensitive development of shopping, leisure and other facilities. However the Victorian ambience and buildings of Belfast are a priceless asset unique to the City. This Victorian streetscape already attracts tourists, visitors and residents to the central area of Belfast and will in due course attract more such visitors. The Victorian legacy will still bring economic benefits. It is entirely possible with sympathetic design to build shopping and leisure facilities, which respect and are in sympathy with the Victorian/Edwardian cityscape. High rise could destroy the unique character of the city resulting ultimately in the loss of tourism and economic damage.

Planning needs to focus on the sentiments of BMAP and not allow short term commercial gain to blight the legacy of old Belfast or to negatively inform the future built environment.