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Today, city centre office accommodation is at a premium. The evidence of this is all around us – we need only cast an upward glance at our ever-changing skylines. Brand new office space appears as if from nowhere, and yet demand continues to outpace supply. In Dublin, pre-letting has reached near record pace as businesses bind themselves to buildings that have yet to be built. And, north of the border, the story is much the same.

Last month saw the submission of a landmark planning application – landmark being the operative word. Subject to planning approval, One Bankmore Square will be the largest single office building in Northern Ireland today. To be built on the former Movie House cinema site in Belfast’s city centre, the scheme will offer 250,000sq ft of Grade A office accommodation, complete with 8,000sq ft of ancillary café, retail and leisure space – courtesy of the London-based property developer Richland Group.

It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking then. More so considering One Bankmore Square will be the first new speculative office development in Northern Ireland since The Soloist building in 2008 – an achievement in-and-of-itself. Richland Group are confident consent will be given however, and rightfully so. According to planning consultant Clyde Shanks, the proposed design forms a direct response to feedback received during public consultation and via pre-application discussions with Belfast City Council’s in-house team.

A Clyde Shanks spokesperson said: “This major planning application is the culmination of a highly collaborative and engaging pre-application discussion process with Belfast City Council planners, its consultees and members of the public. The proposed design has responded to the helpful feedback received and been amended to specifically address the design concerns raised. We are confident this will enable the planning application to be determined promptly.”

There are wider implications as well. Appended to the application are plans for the transformation of Bankmore Square to create a “focal public open space”, which will play host to outdoor cinema events and public art exhibitions.

A development of this size and scope carries with it a considerable price tag however. The entire scheme – Bankmore Square included – will require an approximate £65M investment and necessitate the creation of over 570 construction jobs.

Gary McCausland, CEO of Richland Group commented: “One Bankmore Square is a quantum leap for Belfast’s office market. It brings world class Grade A office accommodation to the heart of the city centre in a single phase development. We have assembled a brilliant home-grown professional team to deliver this exciting project and we look forward to seeing it through to completion in 2020”.

Once complete, One Bankmore Square will have capacity enough to accommodate some 3,000 office workers across 12 separate storeys. Each floor plate will span 25,000sq ft of net useable space – a layout that has proven popular with long-term occupiers.

There are obvious economic considerations also. It is thought that the development will deliver £128M per annum in operational economic benefit – a much-needed boost amid Brexit uncertainties, I’m sure.

Simon McEvoy, Head of Office Agency at joint agent Savills, said: “The opportunity to place-make has been a driving factor behind the design of One Bankmore Square and the adjoining public plaza. The Richland Group envisages the reinvigoration of the existing natural amenity, Bankmore Square, as central to the development and it is evident from the feedback we are receiving that the proposed scheme has already caught the imagination of the business community and the general public. The level of interest in the development is only going to increase as we move through planning and commence construction.”

Dougie Wheeler from joint agent Lambert Smith Hampton added: “It is evident from the record take-up in 2016 and strong start to 2017 that there continues to be a high level of demand in the occupier market for good quality office accommodation in Belfast. However, there continues to be a shortage of Grade A offices in the city centre, especially for the larger occupiers with requirements for 25,000sq ft and above. The development team behind One Bankmore Square are extremely confident that this will be the best building in Belfast to meet that demand. In order not to delay delivery, we are preparing to go on-site and speculatively develop the building, subject to the granting of planning permission.”

Source – UK Construction Online

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