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Parklands now: The site is eerily tranquil and calm despite its location, and nature has most definitely started to take over—not only were the cherry blossom trees which are dotted about the grounds flourishing during the writer's visit, ivy is gradually seeping into the vacant building. Birdsong has replaced the sounds of busy everyday life which must once have filled the area and this, along with the signs of nature thriving without limitations, is in stark contrast to the bleak look of the building itself.
Nestled in a tree-lined, secluded site off the Holywood Road—one of the main thoroughfares into central Belfast—Parklands was once a popular residential apartment complex where families made their homes and lived out their daily lives. But what happened? Seemingly overnight, the residents ‘up and left’ and the now vacant, bricked up block has since become a hive of activity for vandals and arsonists.
Built in the 1960s as part of an impressive public housing initiative, Parklands boasted no less than 45 spacious 2-bedroom apartments set in a prime location—close to the city centre but also in pleasant, leafy surroundings. Over the years, however, in need of modernisation, its popularity waned and it was eventually sold to the private sector. In the 1990s, after extensive refurbishment, the development again became popular and a sought after neighbourhood on the rental market.
The Spring of 2015, however, saw the turning point in the fate of the complex. A fire raged through the building after an apparent arson attack, leaving frightened residents stranded on balconies due to having no escape route, whilst fire services tackled the blaze through the early morning hours. Multiple residents were treated for burns and smoke inhalation and several were hospitalised. No longer deemed safe or inhabitable, families left their homes behind and as no attempt was made to salvage the building or repair damage, Parklands began its rapid demise into dereliction and ruin.
In October 2015, the development and the surrounding land was put on the market for approximately 2 million GBP. At this point, despite extensive fire damage, it was thought that the building could be saved and repurposed once again. Despite initial interest, the complex remained unsold for over a year—and it was during this year that irreparable damage (not inclusive of the impressive graffiti art the building now displays) was done to the building. Fire crews regularly attended to extinguish deliberately set blazes and in turn, the building gradually lost many of its original features—the distinctive entrance canopy for example—and the structure was soon deemed to be beyond repair.
Then, towards the end of 2017, it seemed a reprieve was in sight for the Parklands’ name, if nothing else. Having been sold to local KFC tycoon Michael Herberts’ property firm ‘Kirk Bryson’, permission was given to demolish the current structure, and plans were drawn up to build a new and exclusive apartment development on the 3 acre site. Not only would the development see 104 new, trendy turnkey apartments built (artists' impressions show glass fronted homes with sleek, modern living areas), the complex would also boast rooftop terraces with outstanding views across Belfast City and Lough as well as an exclusive residents gym.
Despite much media hype and interest in the potential homes, the impressive scheme now appears to be on hold—both the site and plans are currently on the market at approximately 4 million GBP—and the future of Parklands, which stands solitary and Chernobylesque, remains uncertain...