Based on proposals approved by DoE Planning in September 2012 Leaside Investments intend to develop up to 250,000 sq ft of retail space alongside restaurants, bars, cafés, art and leisure uses, apartments, offices and car parking.
There will be at least one anchor department store [8,300m2], a minimum of 25,369m2 of class A1 retail, a minimum of 4,083m2 of commercial space for catering and leisure uses and a minimum of 200 residential units, of which 40 residential units will be allocated for affordable housing [for every 20 additional units above the minimum number, one will be allocated for affordable housing].
During 1999/2000 Ewart Properties and John Laing/MEPC (the developers behind the CastleCourt extension at the time) considered combining their developments to compete against Victoria Square for government backing in a joint venture named the “Gateway Project”. At the time the Sunday Post Online  reported that Ewart Properties had acquired around 80% of the proposed development site and negotiations where ongoing with other landlords. However the joint project was dropped and Victora Square received the backing of the Department for Social Development.
The current Royal Exchange scheme was then proposed and in March 2006 the Social Development Minister announced the selection of the North East Quarter as the next area for major retail-led regeneration in the city centre after Victoria Square.
On 6th February 2008 the Department for Social Development entered into “Heads of Terms” with Ewart Properties to develop Royal Exchange. In December 2009 the Department for Social Development announced that a Development Agreement had been signed with the developer consortium to outline legal and contractual matters and stipulate that a planning application must be approved by the DSD and submitted to the Planning Service by 31 October 2010. Commenting on the signing of the development agreement Nick Reid, chief executive of Ewart Properties, stated “the company [Ewart Properties] has been acquiring properties in the area for almost 20 years and to date has invested £40m to get to this stage".
On 29th October 2010 the developer, Leaside Investments [a consortium consisting of Ewart Properties, Snoddens Construction & ING Real Estate] submitted the Royal Exchange planning documents to DoE Planning. Following two years of consultation in the planning system and a number of amendments the proposal was approved in September 2012. However the DSD has stated that the project will only commence construction when the retail market and general economy recovers to enable a viable development to proceed. Commenting in June 2012 DSD Minister McCausland stated that the "Department has ... commissioned an Urban Regeneration Potential Study for Belfast City Centre to include a retail capacity assessment. This study will inform my decision in relation to the promotion of a statutory Development Scheme [in relation to Royal Exchange]". This study is currently being taken forward by Drivers Jonas Deloitte to "examine the relationship between retail, leisure and commercial office investment in the continuing regeneration of Belfast".
Belfast City Council published a draft Investment Programme 2012 - 2015 in February 2012. Within the document Royal Exchange is identified as one of five priority projects for the city.
Belfast City Council released a draft Regeneration Strategy & Investment Plan in December 2014. The North East Quarter (Royal Exchange) is included as a proposed "Special Action Area". The report recommends developing a "refreshed Framework Plan for the North East Quarter including Royal Exchange that includes a mix of retail and non-retail uses".
RBS Capital Resolution (Ulster Bank) announced on 26th May 2015 that a portfolio of property loans had been purchased by an entity affiliated with Cerberus Capital Management. BBC NI Economics & Business Editor John Campbell reported on Twitter that some of the loans are believed to be related to the Royal Exchange scheme. Cerberus is the US investment fund that purchased Nama's Northern Ireland property portfolio in 2014.
A retail positioning study for Belfast City Centre was completed by Javelin Group for Belfast City Council's City Centre Development Team in August 2015. The report was commissioned to help inform the approach to a proposed retail development in the North-East Quarter of Belfast City Centre, and other potential city centre retail developments. Following the report, Belfast City Council are proposing to prepare a "strategic development scheme for the North East Quarter, for public consultation in January 2016".
The Department for Social Development announced on 19 November 2015 that the Royal Exchange Agreement with Leaside Investments Ltd has been terminated. The statement released by the Department explains that the Minister "remains committed to transforming this part of the city which has been in a state of disrepair for many years and he has asked his officials to explore how a Statutory Development Scheme for the area can help establish an appropriate mix of uses".
Castlebrooke Investments acquired Royal Exchange in an off-market deal with Cerberus for an undisclosed sum. Castlebrooke is developing a revised scheme for the area which is expected to be revealed early summer 2016.