When Signature Living announced plans to develop three hotels in Belfast in early 2017, I always had high hopes of maintaining a constructive relationship with you given our shared ambition to put the city on the international tourist map.
I was led to believe that it was your dream to not only increase visitor numbers, but also lead a business-friendly city that welcomes investment and new development. Sadly, the dream you talked about during our first interaction at MIPIM has now turned into a living nightmare.
It has become crystal clear to me that we are working with a Local Authority that serves the needs of a select few and is openly hostile towards new investors and business.
Indeed it appears that officers have not acted impartially and have instead bowed down to the demands of businesses that have been established longer in the city than us. It is a factor that has repeatedly affected us and is particularly prevalent with the George Best Hotel development.
Allow me to shed some light on our experience:
The owners of the Warehouse building, located directly next door to the George Best site, wanted to sell it to Signature Living. We declined the offer, but this was followed by extensive complaints and formal objections to our development. And what has your Council done? Rather than engage with us in any meaningful way, you’ve danced to their tune.
There is also a culture of incompetency, complacency and general laziness amongst your officers and this is not exclusive to any one site. In relation to our Crumlin Road Courthouse project, we have experienced an excessive approach to the planning consultation process, which is not only wholly time consuming but officers didn’t even have the decency to feed in their views.
The senior leadership team within Belfast City Council appear to say one thing, but then do another.
There is also a system of anti-development within your organisation. The behaviour of officers is stifling growth, discouraging inward investment and damaging Belfast and the wider Northern Ireland economy. I also wonder if there is a direct correlation between the attitude of the Council towards developers and the fact that ONS figures suggest Northern Ireland’s economy grew by just 1.1% in 2017, while Belfast was also the slowest expanding UK capital city, with construction the worst performing sector.
Belfast is also falling way behind other major UK cities such as Cardiff and Edinburgh. In the current economic climate and with the uncertainty of Brexit, you have to ask yourselves how many more missed opportunities can Belfast afford?
There is also little to no transparency within the Council and, for some reason, there appears to be a presumption against development.
A sickly alliance between a few hoteliers and officers has pushed the opening of George Best back, which has directly affected Christmas trade as well as the opportunity for amazing publicity for the city.
As you know, we had originally planned to invest £80m into Belfast.
Your actions mean we are now going to revise that figure and stay at around £40million – this is purely as a result of the way your officers have behaved. Our experience with Belfast City Council has been – by a country mile – the poorest compared with other UK Local Authorities.
I would appreciate a full explanation – addressing the points I have raised in this communication – of why your officers are hostile to a company that will increase tourism, boost jobs and kick-start the local economy.
I have evidence to back up all that I have stated and more than happy to share it with you.
If we continue to experience the problems we have faced to date, I will have no hesitation in taking our business elsewhere and further expose the inadequacies of your council when it comes to working with businesses who want to make Belfast better.