Belfast Chamber has set out its vision for a radical reimagining of Belfast City Centre as part of the organisation’s contribution to Belfast City Council, the Department for Infrastructure and Department for Communities’ ‘Bolder Vision for Belfast’ consultation.

In its response – entitled ‘Being Bold’ – Belfast Chamber sets out ideas like the creation of a new university park, a Belfast Riverwalk, the ‘boulevarding’ of the inner ring and the covering of the Westlink to create new space for playparks and greenways that it believes will transform the city’s economy as well as improving Belfast’s sustainability, enhancing its citizens wellbeing and making Belfast city centre a more attractive place to live.

Commenting on Belfast Chamber’s proposals, its Chief Executive, Simon Hamilton, said “Belfast has come on leaps and bounds in recent times. It is, in many respects, unrecognisable. However, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the frailties that have afflicted Belfast for years if not decades. Issues like the city centre’s small residential population, insufficient open and green space for people to relax and enjoy time together, poor walking and cycling infrastructure and the fact that the city centre sits almost as an island, separated from surrounding communities by roads and the river.

Belfast Chamber welcomes Belfast City Council, the Department for Communities and the Department for Infrastructure’s ‘Bolder Vision for Belfast’ consultation. We firmly believe that a once in a generation opportunity exists to transform our city centre for the better. We equally believe that any and all change must be rooted in achieving four key overarching aims.  These include making Belfast city centre accessible and inclusive to everyone in our city as well as visitors and tourists, creating a city centre that enhances citizens’ health and well-being, building a greener, more sustainable and environmentally friendlier Belfast and, crucially, supporting the city’s businesses by creating a city centre that is a must visit destination where people can enjoy our unique blend of retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and is also an attractive place for talent which, in turn, encourages greater investment and job creation”.

Belfast Chamber’s vision is based around 4 main themes which are:

  • Creating a ‘University Park’ – Belfast Chamber proposes the development of a new ‘University Park’ connecting the Ulster and Queen’s campuses with reimagined, traffic calmed, tree lined city streets punctuated by urban gardens and parks as a first, significant step towards an interconnected network of parks and green spaces across Belfast.
  • Becoming a Blue City Again – Belfast Chamber supports the city better embracing the River Lagan and Waterfront by building a Belfast Riverwalk along both banks of the Lagan connecting the Titanic Quarter with Ormeau Park, Botanic Gardens and beyond to Belvoir Forest and the Lagan Meadows along with a ‘Bridge Building’ Programme of new architecturally stunning pedestrian and cycling bridges, an ‘urban spa’ in Belfast Harbour and the development of ‘Belfast Beaches’ along the Lagan modelled on the successful ‘Paris Plages’.
  • Stitching the City Together – Belfast Chamber supports the ‘boulevarding’ of Belfast’s inner ring, the covering over of the Westlink and safer and better connections between the city centre and our arterial routes, with the aim of stitching our city centre back together with its surrounding communities, creating more space for citizens and visitors in the process.
  • A 24/7 Living City – Belfast Chamber believes that immediate, decisive action is needed to kick start a boom in residential building across Belfast city centre. A proper plan, backed by the Council and the Department for Communities, alongside a partnership with the private sector is long overdue. Any plan should involve the designation of Belfast city centre as a special investment zone for residential development and include initiatives and interventions such as rates exemptions for new build residential developments in Belfast city centre similar to those in operation in GB cities, the fast-tracking of city centre based residential schemes, a reduction in car parking requirements in city centre residential developments to encourage active travel and the development of a housing development fund akin to Greater Manchester’s Housing Investment Fund to help stimulate the city’s residential market.

Continuing, Simon Hamilton said, “Many sectors of our city’s economy have endured an extremely difficult period. Change in our city centre is much needed but it should not be implemented in a way that does further damage to our economy and must have the aim of increasing footfall and visitor numbers, supporting business and making Belfast an appealing destination for investment at its core. Therefore, as important as reimagining Belfast is to the health and wellbeing of the city’s population and in our fight against climate change, it is equally as important to the ongoing economic success of Belfast.

Belfast is going through an unprecedented period of regeneration. A new university campus, a transport hub, a new tourism destination and other investments are changing our city for the better. Belfast’s potential is boundless. These projects are absolutely essential to the future of Belfast but, in order to maximise the benefit for the city, we need to consider the spaces between these developments and prioritise placemaking so that their positive impact is maximised”. 

In conclusion, Simon Hamilton commented, “A bold vision for Belfast is nothing without the ability to deliver it. Belfast Chamber does not doubt that our city partners share our ambition for Belfast. What we are worried about is our city’s capacity to deliver such a big, bold plan and to do so in a timely manner.  Winning the race for talent involves a city like Belfast succeeding at many things but making Belfast as attractive a city as we can with great housing, good transport and an excellent quality of life are non-negotiables. We do not have the luxury of taking our time in implementing a Bolder Vision. Belfast Chamber’s clear and unequivocal message to the Council, the Department for Communities and Department for Infrastructure is “get on with it”.