Page last updated at 17:24 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 18:24 UK

Big wheel may stay at city hall

Julian O'Neill
BBC Newsline

Belfast's Big Wheel
The Big Wheel was facing a move to the Titantic Quarter

Belfast's eye-catching big wheel may keep on turning for two more years, despite a previous objection from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The wheel's owners, World Tourist Attractions, claim Environment Minister Sammy Wilson supports them.

They quoted him as being "appalled" that part of one of his department's organisations wanted the structure removed.

Mr Wilson could not be contacted by the BBC through his department or the DUP.

However, a letter from World Tourist Attractions to Belfast City Council, released on Friday and dated 1 May, quoted Mr Wilson as stating: "There should be a huge lobby on this issue to ensure the planners come to the right decision."

'Permanent fixture'

Current planning approval, which expires at the end of August, was granted last winter despite an NIEA objection.

At the time the agency said it was putting down a marker to ensure the wheel did not become a permanent fixture beside a listed building.

It is not clear what the agency's position will be on any new application, which is expected to be lodged in the near future. Until then there will be no comment.

The wheel has been operating for two years and was only meant to be running while City Hall was closed for renovations.

The building is due to reopen in September but the wheel may to stay until September 2011, maybe even longer.

The Belfast Titanic Society is upset by plans to retain the wheel because it dwarfs an official memorial to the disaster.

The society said if the wheel was granted another extension, the statue should be removed from beside the attraction to elsewhere within City Hall's grounds.

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