Belfast’s North Street has seen better days.
At its junction with Bridge Street, many of the buildings are abandoned, boarded up and covered in graffiti.
For more than 20 years, the street has featured in plans to regenerate this area of the city centre.
Little has happened. The rot has set in.
Now the city council has approved a new plan, known as Tribeca, which would reshape more than 10 acres.
North Street would be pedestrianised and its most distinctive buildings retained.
The wider scheme would create 45,000 sq metres of offices and around 360 apartments.
- Council backs £500m plan to regenerate Belfast
The planning permission has been welcomed by business leaders who see the potential for post-pandemic investment.
But the scheme has also faced resolute and organised opposition from people who fear it amounts to a missed opportunity and a historic mistake.
Les Hume, from Destination CQ BID, a local business group, said he recognises that people “want to challenge things, to make sure they’re done properly” but added that “now is the time for delivery”.
“2020 has been awful, we need to see some good news come out of this.”
The scheme is being promoted by the London-based developer Castlebrooke Investments.
Mr Hume said Castlebrooke has shown a willingness to change elements of the scheme.
“We’ve seen the developer pivot in some ways to make suitable changes.
“I would still want to be a challenger to a developer to make sure they’re doing it right and fair by the city. But I am for development.’
For the opponents of the scheme the whole enterprise is misconceived.
They fear that it will overwhelm Belfast’s somewhat bohemian Cathedral Quarter, reduce public space and fail to create a sustainable community.
“For the last 30 or more years, this scheme has had different iterations,” says Agustina Martire from the Save CQ campaign.
“Every single one of its iterations has been out of date and focusing on things which were working in the past but will probably not work in the future.’
The last version of the scheme, when it was known as Royal Exchange, was focused on retail.
With retail in trouble long before the pandemic, Castlebrooke reorientated the scheme towards offices.
The objectors question whether that can now work given that the pandemic has led so many people to embrace working from home.
However, analysis conducted by the city council concluded that “is highly likely that Belfast will continue to need additional provision of office space to meet demand”.
Not all councillors are convinced by this.
Green councillor Áine Groogan voted against the scheme.
“What does this community need? It needs investment and regeneration but this scheme is not going to create a vibrant, liveable city.”
A question mark also remains on when the planning permission will be translated into building work.
North Street could remain in its current sorry state for some time.