RESIDENTS from the Market area are concerned that private new development plans will “eclipse” the much-anticipated Market Tunnels Project.

The eight disused railway arches, known as the Lanyon Tunnels, connect the Market with Belfast Central Station, St George’s Market and Lanyon Place. Plans are at an advanced stage to open them up for use as commercial properties and also for community use.

Property developer Kilmona Holdings plan to build two multi-storey buildings on an adjacent site. But there are concerns over the scale of the plan, associated congestion and the possibility that the new buildings will cut the historic and eyecatching tunnels off from public view.

Sinn Féin Councillor Deirdre Hargey said: “In 2009 planning permission was refused at the same site for a nine story development, this was due to the scale, mass and design of the project, and now planning has been approved for a fourteen storey development, it doesn’t make much sense.

“We have been working with the Market Development Association for the last number of years around the development of the tunnels project. The whole point is to connect an inner-city community back into the city centre and vice-versa. That fits with the Council’s new regeneration strategy, which is about connectivity.

“We feel that this development would cut that connection off because you wouldn’t be able to see the tunnels. They wouldn’t be visible at all from the Market end. The objections aren’t about the site being developed, they are about the scale. It’s a residential area that already has problems with congestion.”

The Market Tunnels Project is part of that community’s regeneration plans. Belfast City Council’s website reads: “We are developing exciting plans to bring the Lanyon Tunnels back into use. The spaces are currently bricked up, creating a physical barrier between the Market and the city centre, but they present a unique space for possible commercial development, right in the heart of the city. Once refurbished, they could be suitable for retail, light industrial, office and leisure use (subject to planning).”

Cllr Hargey said the first tunnel closest to the railway line will be open to create pedestrian access from the Market out into Lanyon Place. “That would create a safer route which means pedestrians don’t have to cross busy arterial routes such as East Bridge Street,” she said. “The remaining six tunnels would then be developed for community and social economy purposes such as a crèche facility, a cultural and heritage café – this would give a cultural and historic backdrop to the entire area giving it a tourism strategy which would connect in with St George’s Market and the redevelopment of the Waterfront Hall as a conference facility. The rest would be leased out to generate an income to make this project sustainable.

“There were expressions of interest put out two months ago with over fifty applicants coming back from a variety of businesses.”

She added: “The developer [Kilmona Holdings] wants one of the buildings to sit along the railway lines and one to sit at the other end with the entrance being at the top of the bridge sitting one or two storeys up that would completely block the tunnels from this area.

“We recognise that we are an inner-city community and we realise there will be redevelopment, this was a way of us trying to open ourselves up to the city and to the opportunities that would then come.

“We have no problem with the site being developed, it’s just the layout and the scale of it. The two buildings would eclipse the tunnels.”

A Kilmona spokesman said: “A very comprehensive report exists which sets out all of the contributions, amendments and reasons why this project fits with the regeneration, growth and planning policies set for Belfast. The Council has decided to defer its decision for a month and we respect that and therefore any substantive comment from us is not appropriate at this time.”