The Belfast City Centre Regeneration Strategy and Investment Plan provides a framework for change at a critical time for Belfast. In April 2015 Belfast City Council assumed new responsibilities including community planning as part of the ongoing reform of local government in Northern Ireland. At the same time new opportunities were arising – impressive job growth as companies moved back office functions out of London, an increase in tourism sparked by the wildly successful Titanic Belfast, and major planned public and private investments including a city centre university campus and expanded transport hub. As Belfast City Council prepared to take on its new role as the planning authority for Belfast, the City Centre Regeneration Strategy and Investment Plan provided it with a set of policies, projects and priorities that take full advantage of these unique circumstances.
The consulting team combined planning and design expertise from Urban Strategies, market expertise from Deloitte and transport expertise from Arup to bring a multi-disciplinary and international perspective to the regeneration of Belfast city centre. The team worked closely with Belfast City Council officers and councillors as well as dozens of city centre stakeholders to understand the Belfast context and respond to the challenges and opportunities the city was facing. The consultation program sparked a city-wide conversation about the future of Belfast city centre and its importance to Northern Ireland. The plan’s greatest contribution has been to change the narrative about the city centre; not only does it provide a physical, economic and social program, but it has built consensus around the recognition that investment in Belfast city centre has spin off effects that benefit the entire region.
The plan provides Belfast City Council with a strong city centre vision based in high level policies, a series of transformational but realistic projects, and five “special action areas” to prioritize action where it is needed most and will have the most impact. It focuses on addressing Belfast city centre’s particular challenges, taking advantage of planned institutional and infrastructure investments and realizing the potential of Belfast’s underutilized assets. Strategies are advanced for reversing the general retail decline of the city centre, building on the catalytic introduction of the University of Ulster’s York Street Campus and transforming the Lagan Corridor into a delightful linear open space. The plan rationalizes, prioritizes and updates existing proposals, but also introduces bold new ideas for both the economic and physical regeneration of the city centre.
At a time when Belfast City Council was in transition, preparing to take on new authority but lacking the plans to guide its use of that new authority, the Belfast City Centre Regeneration Strategy and Investment Plan filled the void and set the agenda. The proof of the plan’s success is in the uptake – it was unanimously accepted for consultation by a committee of Belfast City Council in December 2014. The Council then took it through a formal public consultation process, releasing the final document in September 2015, Belfast City Council has shown its commitment to implementing the plan by establishing an £18.77 million City Centre Development Fund to kick start key projects, ensuring that the plan will be translated into reality and will influence the shape of development in Belfast city centre for years to come.