Major investment project to reinvigorate Smithfield area of Belfast

Matthew Morrison Planning

A multimillion pound proposal has today been unveiled that aims to reinvigorate a part of Belfast that has received little investment in recent years, with plans for first class office space and new units for independent businesses and retailers.

Bywater Properties and Ashmour have launched the consultation on the mixed-use project under the consultation working title Building Blocks. The proposal covers a one and a quarter acre site between Gresham Street and Winetavern Street in the Smithfield area of the city, which is currently being used as a car park.

Outline proposals for the regeneration scheme include a vibrant mix of contemporary office spaces, co-working space and workshops for small, local businesses, as well as significant improvements to the current public realm. Central to the proposal is encouraging small independent businesses, retailers and makers to reinvigorate the streets.

Theo Michell and Patrick O’Gorman from developers Bywater Properties and Ashley Stewart from local developer Ashmour emphasised that this is a long-term investment born of their confidence in Belfast’s future, which will also take inspiration from the area’s past.

“Smithfield was historically a thriving hub of trade in Belfast and our plans aim to make it a trading heart in the city once again. We respect the city’s heritage and culture and we want to preserve Smithfield’s character and the life that’s already there while investing to rejuvenate an area that has suffered from chronic under investment for many years,” said Ashley Stewart.

“Smithfield has always been about small, local independent traders. We believe that it is important for the city to retain diversity, locating big businesses alongside small home-grown startups, independent traders and artisan makers. Our aim is to champion the independents, not to attract multi-national chains to fill standard shops. We believe larger businesses recognise these are the areas their staff want to work and socialise in, where there’s life and vitality on the doorstep,” said Theo Michell.

If approved, up to 650 construction jobs will be created in the build phase of the project and once completed the proposed office accommodation will have space for up to 1,500 people.

The Building Blocks proposals have also taken into account the goals set out in Belfast City Council’s recently published Inner North West Masterplan for the areas of the city including Smithfield. The scheme will create new pedestrian access into Gresham Street and Winetavern Street as well as additional landscaped public areas.

Theo Dales from Stirling Prize-winning architects FCB Studios said: “Our design for the scheme retains all existing buildings on site and is based on reimagining the traditional mill building. This familiar building type, mixed with the grain of historic buildings, combines to create a characterful and rich piece of the city. The listed Butcher’s building is integrated into this set of buildings to create a unified and active place. The proposal reflects an ambitious development and keen interest in how this city works. Bywater and Ashmour have promoted viable development and inclusive regeneration by making links to local businesses and people. This is most clearly reflected in the small-scale ground floor uses and inclusion of accessible public space.”

Bywater and Ashmour are refurbishing the listed former Butcher’s building on the corner of Gresham Street and North Street to use as its consultation headquarters. A community consultation will be held in the building in September and details of the proposed development available at a collaboration with local illustrators Us Folk. The intention is to also use the space for school outreach and education events in September.

“We feel consultation is often half-hearted. We’ve deliberately set out an illustrative vision and a strong set of core guiding principles we believe in rather than a final scheme for rubber stamping. We look forward to a lively debate,” said Patrick O’Gorman.

Central to the vision is the co-location of large and small businesses to create a collaborative, open and forward-thinking district in the city, where startup entrepreneurs can build relationships with established SMEs and young professionals working in its Grade A offices.

The 235,000 sq ft scheme is anchored by a 115,000 sqft main office building which will provide first class office space offering 21st century floorplates and exceptional design that is sensitive to the historic context, with roof terraces, digital connectivity and high-quality bike, shower and other amenities.

“There’s no room for bland grey offices in our rejuvenated Smithfield area. This is a new, inclusive way of doing business. It is a fresh model of development that aims to encourage innovative ways of working and which is driven by creativity, collaboration and diversity,” said Patrick.

“We want to reinvigorate this part of the city into a vibrant, interconnected neighbourhood where independent retailers, coffee shops and local family businesses sit side by side with big international employers and their millennial workforce.”

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