Our policy and aim is to make Northern Ireland an excellent place for business by ensuring that Belfast thrives. The success of Belfast is a pre-requisite for a dynamic province and these policies are designed to ensure the secure long-term growth of our city.
The Belfast Metropolitan Area has a population of 580,000 out of Northern Ireland’s total population of 1.811m. This centre of population is the gateway for business and economic activity for the whole region.
Brexit creates new challenges and opportunities for Belfast as the capital of the region. Putting Belfast First, means getting the best for Northern Ireland, the only UK region neighbouring the European Union.
1. A Self-Governing City
Belfast City Council must be the dominant authority for Belfast.
The existing arrangement of several central government departments competing with local government should be replaced by the Council as the sole cohesive body. This will mean the City Council taking over economic development and regeneration powers as well as control over roads to complement its planning powers.
Great Cities have strong democratic governance. Our great city deserves its own fully empowered and fully accountable City Council.
2. Access and Infrastructure
Belfast needs a world-class sustainable transport system if it is to achieve the growth that is planned in future years.
On a positive note we welcome:
- the Rapid Transit System (the Glider) and look forward to the North-South phases being implemented as soon as possible under funding from the City Deal
- government support for the proposed Transport Interchange at Great Victoria Street Rail/Bus Stations. This is a priority for the city and a positive planning decision is equired as soon as possible to allow this project to move forward
Building on these initiatives the City needs:
- an hourly Enterprise service connecting Belfast to Dublin at peak times
- a proper and independent review of the bus lanes, speed limits and car parking in the City Centre. People in cars should not be seen as the enemy, rather as potential clients, customers, investors and visitors.
Transport NI should:
- standardise the times of bus lanes to weekday and peak times only and permit use by taxis and cyclists
- specify and advertise arterial routes that are free of bus lanes
- implement smart car park signage
- Implement the City Council’s Car Parking Strategy which will encourage economically efficient use of on-street and other public parking while maintaining the current level of provision
- enforce existing regulations to achieve a proper level of on-street car parking turnover
Increased air connectivity
The chamber supports:
- the expansion and development of Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport
- more air transport slots for Belfast from London airports
- abolition of Air Passenger Duty on all flights into Northern Ireland from Great Britain and on all direct flights from Northern Ireland to any destination
The chamber supports the development of the roads infrastructure throughout Northern Ireland to give better connection between the regions and the capital city and in particular full motorway connectivity to both Newry and Derry~Londonderry.
3. A Tech City
Belfast is emerging as a world-class destination for high-tech and media investment. We need to build upon this base and create the environment and culture to continue this growth.
The Chamber celebrates the fact that Belfast has been ranked as the second fastest broadband city in the UK; but we are slower than Dublin and many other leading European cities. Investment is needed to give Belfast the fastest internet download speeds on the island of Ireland. This is an essential modern requirement for attracting investors who are willing to set up business and bring employees to the City.
The City is facing a skills shortage. Chamber supports education tailored to the needs of our members. We will work with schools, Belfast Met, Queen’s University, Ulster University and the Department of Education to ensure that courses meet the needs of employers.
Belfast needs to create a welcoming environment for foreign skilled workers. The City Centre needs to develop its attractiveness as a place to live with residential quarters that have facilities for young families such as pocket parks and daycare.
4. Fairer Rates and Taxes
The businesses in Belfast City Centre contribute 65% of the rates income of the entire City Council. The Chamber is entitled to expect a recognition from the City Council of the fact that the business community is fundamental to meeting many of the Council’s other policies and objectives.
High levels of rates deter investment in the City Centre and actually reduce Council income because of vacancies.
We will continue to resist rates on businesses becoming the easy tax for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Proper rates policy can be used to stimulate growth by:
- encouraging more residential accommodation in the City Centre
- incentivising occupation of vacant buildings
- incentivising new development and capital investment
5. Reinvent the City Centre
The traditional retail core in the City Centre is changing due to the combination of out-of-town and suburban malls and internet retailing. The Bank Buildings fire has raised awareness of the importance of the city centre and of the issues impacting upon it.
The following policies are designed to work with our infrastructure changes to put Belfast at the forefront of 21st century cities.
The Chamber’s aim is to move Belfast from the 19th most popular retail destination in the United Kingdom into one of the top ten positions. Our policies to achieve this are:
- The Royal Exchange project must be prioritised and Sprucefield Park should not be allowed to develop beyond bulky-goods retailing.
- To encourage the growth of locally owned independent retailers throughout the city through rates incentives and local business assistance.
- To extend Sunday trading hours in the city to allowearlier opening.
- A full review of objectives and options regarding the use of Donegall Place for pedestrians, public transport and other users is required. The night-time economy relies on accessibility by private cars and taxis. There is an argument that the pedestrianised area in the City Centre is too large for a city of the size of Belfast and this inhibits non-retail uses and is a cause of the lack of activity in the evening.
Commerce and Business
The Chamber has a clear policy that Belfast’s main commercial and business district should be in the centre of the city and not be allowed to move to the waterfront. The area south of City Hall should be the priority and policies such as the new transport hub in Great Victoria Street are essential to support this.
There is an urgent need to regenerate the south of the City Centre, including Great Victoria Street, Shaftesbury Square, Bradbury Place and the surrounding streets. Priority should be given to investment for this area.
It’s time to see more people living in the City Centre again.
Policies, such as:
- reduced car parking requirements for City Centre housing
- rates incentives for new residential development in the City Centre
- long term rates reliefs for City Centre upper floor housing
should be introduced with a target of trebling the number of people living in the City Centre within 10 years.
The City Council should abandon its policy of imposing developer contributions by using s76 of the Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 for residential planning permissions within the City Centre.
The international success of Belfast’s nightlife and hospitality sector will grow even further if our historic licensing laws, which date from 1902, are properly modernised. Belfast Chamber supports the licensing industry’s call for laws which reflect the changing needs of our society.
The use of the City Centre for public events should be managed to be fair to all users. Events should be organised in a manner which is considerate to business owners, customers and clients. Processions, protests and parades should be organised to be clear of the City Centre and its main accesses by 12 noon on trading days. In particular we support moving the Belfast City Marathon to a Sunday.
Culture and Sport
Belfast deserves the ornamentation of more public art to express the character, identity and creativity of this great city. The Chamber supports the work of the City’s cultural organisations in all that they do to in stimulating the creativity that will make Belfast a city for the 21st century.
It is essential that any major new sporting stadium for Northern Ireland is located in the City.
In the link between culture and commerce we would support a campaign for Belfast to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status for our shipbuilding history.
6. Return the NI Assembly
The lack of a sitting Assembly is causing real harm to the economy of Belfast and NI.
Some £1.5billion in government capital investment is being held up by the stalemate, which prevents decisions being made on these essential projects. The uncertainty is causing the private sector to stall its plans for investment and growth, and the lack of stability is making it increasingly difficult for Invest NI to attract much needed Foreign Direct Investment into Belfast and the province.
We call for the political parties to do everything in their power to bring back a sitting Assembly without delay.
7. A business-friendly Brexit
Belfast Chamber respects the decision of the EU Referendum and calls for an orderly and business-friendly departure from the EU on beneficial trade terms. 78% of our members support the current draft Withdrawal Agreement.
Brexit brings many challenges as well as opportunities. Northern Ireland’s geographical position means it can and should enjoy beneficial trading arrangements with both the EU and within the UK. We call for a Brexit that delivers the ability for business to trade with the EU without a hard border and without significant tariffs, and trade with the rest of the UK unemcumbered; a Brexit that allows sufficient people to come to NI to work and contribute to our society; one that allows existing EU citizens to remain and work in the UK; and permits free flow of tourists, capital and raw materials from the EU into the UK.
Put Belfast First
We want to see Northern Ireland flourish.
To make this happen our government must put Belfast at the heart of all policies for Northern Ireland. As the home of our legislature, gateway to the province and our largest population and business centre, Belfast can be Northern Ireland’s world class city with all of the benefits that brings for the region as a whole.
Policies for relocation of government departments away from Belfast should be reversed. Instead investment should be made in improving connections between our major cities and towns.
Belfast is the hub of Northern Ireland. Make Belfast great and the rest of the region will follow.