Belfast gets boost…

UP to 4,000 jobs could be created in a £14 million Belfast city masterplan announced by the Government today. The focus is on two major retail outlets and regeneration of the Cathedral and Castlecourt areas. I hope promises that public spaces will be improved and independent retailers will be looked after don’t turn out to be hollow – as they own many of the premises which will be torn down to make way for the new outlets.Social Development Minister John Spellar said:

“After decades of underperformance, Belfast is on the way back. These early years of the new millennium are Belfast’s decade for growth and renewal. It’s time to utilise the value of the land in the North East and North West of the City Centre and make that value work for Belfast. The masterplans identify locations for two large department stores. Retail opportunities for local independent traders as well as international brands new to the City are also on the horizon. This type of shopping will position Belfast as a major regional retail destination. These proposals hold the potential to deliver at least 4,000 new jobs in addition to the 3,000 at Victoria Square. These jobs will provide career opportunities for our young people and the prospect of building a better life for those who live in deprived neighbourhoods.

“Victoria Square remains Government’s priority to spearhead retail-led regeneration and provides the bedrock for renewing the City Centre. The development of the North East and North West Quarters needs to complement Victoria Square by expanding the retail sector at a pace which maximises opportunity for investors and consumers.

“Both Quarters have their own unique history, challenges and potential for growth and renewal. That is why we have prepared distinct masterplans for the North East and North West. The future of both areas deserves specific detailed consideration.

“Looking ahead, we see a decade of renewal for the City Centre starting with Victoria Square and then accommodating two further schemes. There is an early decision to be made on the order in which further development proceeds. The period of public consultation on the masterplans getting underway today is therefore of great importance. We want your views on the draft masterplans. I look forward to receiving your comments.

“Last autumn, I announced that William Ewart Properties, principal landholders in the North East Quarter, would be given first opportunity to respond to the future development brief for that area.

“Castlecourt is of central and strategic importance to the regeneration of the North West Quarter and access to Castlecourt must be secured if we are to achieve the comprehensive redevelopment proposed in the masterplan. Westfield Shoppingtowns Ltd, owner of Castlecourt, has a proven track record in delivering large scale and complex development projects. I am therefore announcing, for public consultation, that Westfield should be given first opportunity to respond to the future development brief for the North West Quarter. In parallel with the consultation on the draft masterplan, I am seeking comments on this proposal before I take a final decision later this year.”