Belfast Chamber President Michael Stewart has told the audience at the BelFastForward conference that there is a growing frustration amongst the city’s business community that delivery doesn’t always match ambition when it comes to Belfast’s regeneration.


The event – which was sponsored by leading global consulting firm EY – saw over 300 delegates gather in the ICC Belfast to hear from a range of local, national and international speakers who examined and explored what the pandemic has meant for cities like Belfast and what the future of our city could and should look like.


Commenting at BelFastForward, Michael Stewart said, As regeneration stories go, Belfast almost has it all.  A ‘right sized city’ that is one of four capitals in the UK and the second biggest city on the island.  It is home to some amazingly talented and creative people.  We have an abundance of centrally located development opportunities.  And whilst we can all see with our own eyes the changes that are happening, I know I speak for many of our members when I say that sometimes it feels like we aren’t realising our potential quickly enough.


Perhaps we can be a little impatient. But that impatience is understandable given what our city has gone through and the speed of transformation that we see happening in other cities.  BelFastForward has shown us that other cities like Milan and Copenhagen aren’t just thinking about things.  They’re actually delivering and their citizens are seeing the difference and businesses are benefitting. 


As well as a lot of opportunity, Belfast also has a lot of vision and strategies.  Visions and strategies are fine. Necessary even.  As a city, we’ve definitely got the vision. We’ve got ambition by the bucketful.  But it increasingly feels like the time for dreaming is over and the time for doing is overdue.


I don’t want to downplay the transformation our city has undergone over the last two decades or dismiss what is in the pipeline, but it is troubling that a regular refrain that we at Belfast Chamber hear from members is that Belfast is a great place to do business, there is a warm welcome for investors and we are rich with talent, but – and this is worrying – things here can take too long.


We do not have the luxury of time.  Other cities are getting on with it and so must we. So, whether it is the Bolder Vision, city centre living or a Freeport, our message to those in power, whether that be in City Hall or, especially, at Stormont, is ‘get on with it’.


It has felt for some time like Belfast is at the beginning of a great period in its history.  We are all blessed to live here, work here and be part of what we hope will unfold over the next number of years.  The pandemic has highlighted the scale of the challenges we still face but it has also presented us with the opportunity to make the kind of change Belfast badly needs.  Let us not lose that impetus and instead accelerate towards the delivery of Belfast’s regeneration”.