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Row ignites over Queen’s University Belfast student union plans

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Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) is facing a backlash from music lovers after it launched a contest for a design team to redevelop one of the city’s best-known venues

Nearly 8,500 people have already signed a petition to save Mandela Hall from destruction under the plans to create a new £25million integrated student centre at the campus.

Sitting opposite the university’s iconic ‘Lanyon Building’, the current Students’ Union was built in 1967 and was originally designed for just 6,000 students. The building – which features a 2,000 capacity concert hall, canteen and three bars – received an £8.8 million overhaul by local firm Todd Architects in 2006.

Now the university is seeking a design team to deliver a new building for student services which will overhaul the existing site.

A statement on the Change.org petition website said: ‘Not only does this decision (if it goes ahead) deprive QUB students and Belfast as a whole of such a renowned event venue - it threatens hundreds of jobs within the Students’ Union and its venues.’

A statement by Students’ Union Caoimhe McNeill said that discussions about the project had been going on since 2013, and was included in the body’s strategic plan which was approved after being put to 23,000 students last year.

She said the project was ‘in the early stages of development but that ‘one of the options being considered is a complete redevelopment of the union building’.

She added: ‘No matter which option is chosen, our goal is to create something that will meet the needs of the Queen’s students for decades to come.’

The current building dates back to 1967 and has been a cornerstone of the Belfast music scene since then, having seen gigs by bands including Radiohead and Ed Sheeran.

A statement from the university said: ‘The university has initiated a project involving all the relevant stakeholders, including the Students’ Union, to explore the potential development of an Integrated Student Centre.

‘The project, which is aligned to both the Students’ Union Strategic Plan 2015-20 and Vision 2020, has the potential to deliver an integrated hub for student services – this project remains very much at the pre-feasibility and concept stage.’

Meanwhile, Edward Jones, co-founder of Dixon Jones, said that the university could save itself a lot of bother by reinstating a similar project that it won with BDP in 2001.

Jones said that its winning scheme, which was showcased at the Venice Biennale of 2001, was cancelled due to in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He said: ’As a result of this experience, we would either advise caution to potential applicants, or that our selected design of 2001 might be reselected with a great cost saving to the university.’

Dixon Jones' proposed plans for a new studewnt centre at Queen's University Belfast

Dixon Jones’ proposed plans for a new studewnt centre at Queen’s University Belfast (2001)

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