Forum for an alternative Belfast

Bank Square

Bank Square has the makings of one of Belfast’s best squares, open to the evening sun, protected from traffic, it has two picturesque churches, a good bar and an award winning restaurant. However it is blighted and cut off from Royal Avenue by a service yard wall that cuts off the former Berry Street. Various adjacent owners want to build around the square, making it vibrant with users, but the wall holds them back, Bank Square is hidden, and is not a shared space in the city.

The Story of a Square and a Street.

Bank Square never existed before 1990, but the adjacent Berry Street is one of the oldest streets in the city. It flowed parallel to High Street, itself following the curve of River Farset, Berry Street led into the city’s market square, Smithfield. On the old map one can see the network of narrow lanes are like rungs on a curved ladder formed by the two streets, a form that largely remains today on the city map.

By 1990 the square had been covered by CastleCourt shopping centre, Berry Street was closed to act as a bin collection and service yard. Intended or otherwise, the brick barrier at Berry Street separated the ‘West Belfast’ door of CastleCourt from Royal Avenue. Today it remains as stark as any ‘Peace Wall’, lying just 50 yards from Belfast’s main shopping avenue, anyone wishing to take down a wall in Belfast could do worse than start here. 

Bank Square emerges from former back lands, it is dominated by the service yard wall, but it also has one of Belfast’s oldest Taverns, Kelly’s Cellars, and an award–winning restaurant. St Mary’s Chapel was the first Catholic Church in the city, built with donations from the Presbyterian Church. Berry Street Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church lies hidden behind the service yard wall and across from St Mary’s. 

Forum have drawn up practical and phased proposals for Bank Square and the reopening of Berry Street and the Department of Social Development have funds allocated for repaving the area. Now is the time to deal with the barrier wall that is a blight on the area and that prevents safe and active movement between two sectors of the city.

The South West Quarter and Cathedral Quarter are the oldest areas of the city that house most of its independent retail and artistic uses, yet they are held back by the lack of connections on Berry Street, Garfield Street and the burnt out North Street Arcade. It is vital that these arteries are reinvigorated before other major redevelopment which will take years, if not a decade, to finally complete.

A reopened Berry Street will let the sunny side of Castle Court open to the city, a ‘green wall’ covering its blank elevation, small stalls lead one down Berry Street. The service yard is lined with small shops and a diner cafe as the first phase of a longer plan to convert the service yard into a market courtyard and arcade. With the yard screened, the owners around the square are liberated to develop their vacant sites. Bank Square comes to life as the best space in Belfast, and it could all happen in a few years since these developments are small and practical.

When times are tough, Bank Square is an easy and realistic win for the city that requires no new public funds and has at least two willing owners eager to expand.