Time for a City Deal for Belfast…

Last week, LOCUS and I, hosted a City Deal seminar in Belfast which was addressed by Mr Richard Brown, Director of Regeneration Glasgow City Council.

He explained that City Deals are agreements that have been negotiated between the UK government and 29 cities in the UK; the city gets new powers in exchange for greater responsibility to stimulate and support economic growth and promote job creation.

Richard Brown, Suzanne Wylie & Tim Attwood

Richard Brown, Suzanne Wylie & Tim Attwood

Richard Brown detailed the negotiations he had with HM Treasury to negotiate the first City Deal in a devolved region for the Glasgow City Region, led by Glasgow City Council, which negotiated a £1.13billion City Deal on 20 August 2014. It sets out how the region will create economic growth through:

  • setting up a £1.13 billion Glasgow and Clyde Valley Infrastructure Fund to improve transport and regenerate/develop sites
  • supporting growth in the life sciences sector
  • helping small and medium enterprises to grow and develop
  • setting up programmes to support unemployed people
  • testing new ways of boosting the incomes of people on low wages

The UK committed £500million, in additional funding, matched by the Scottish Government and the local authorities will borrow a further £130million.

Given the scale of the challenges we currently face in Belfast and across the North – ranging from unemployment to infrastructure, budget cuts to the impact of welfare reform, there is an obligation on us to pursue new funding opportunities.

Local Government Reform gives councils new powers and influence. The new powers given to Belfast City Council of planning, community planning and regeneration, give us the ability to uniting politically in delivering, growing and fulfilling our potential.

Even at that, we are still beholden to a regional development model that fails to recognise the importance of the city to the wider region and allow the relevant policy flexibility to develop local approaches that will enhance that contribution

As the RSA City Growth Commission report “Unleashing Metro Growth” said there needs to be greater recognition of “city-regions, or metros as the main drivers of economic growth in an increasingly knowledge –driven global economy”

Given that 61% of  UK Growth is generated by City Regions. The Commission goes on to say that “Cities across the UK need to be empowered to unleash their creativity and innovation potential, improve their connectivity and boost their productivity.”

The reality is that one in three jobs are based in Belfast – the city attracted 5,000 new FDI jobs in the last year alone.  Yet, in some parts of the city, unemployment and inactivity rates are around 60-70% of the local population.  This is not a sustainable solution – and it is proof that the current way of working is just not working

The jobs that we create in Belfast provide employment not only for local residents but also for many in-commuters – more than half of the people who work in Belfast do not live in the city centre

As Belfast City councillors we have shown significant ambition for the city: but our hands are currently tied due to the rigid governance structures that we must comply with.  In Belfast, our £150million investment programme and the £105m million Leisure Transformation strategy is evidence of our ability and commitment to deliver a range of physical and social investment initiatives to improve the quality of life with residents.

Today (Tuesday) in Westminster the SNP are grilling the British Government over a City Deal for Aberdeen.

We need to be setting out our stall for a Belfast/Derry City Deal which will maximise opportunities for the region in terms of inclusive economic growth, better connectivity and improved cohesion.

Tim Attwood is an SDLP Councillor in Belfast.


  • Brian O’Neill

    I was at the presentation. A few things stood out for me.

    We are used to the idea of councils having limited powers – bins, bogs and burials. But with the recent powers they have been given over planning etc the council now has real power to do things.

    It is interesting that the council can apply directly to HM Treasury bypassing the Assembly. Jealously of Belfast and their general inability to do anything means it would never get Assembly support.

    As a citizen of Befast I fully support the councils attempts to boost the City. I know the rest of NI hates all the investment and attention Belfast gets but this is where companies generally want to setup – you can’t fight it.

  • barnshee

    Stick it on you rates bill to your hearts content- just keep it well away from mine.

  • chrisjones2

    Who would trust them with it?

  • the rich get richer

    Freedom for Belfast has a good ring to it !

    The big and even small business’s want to be in the big cities unless they is a very good reason for not being.

    Putting business’s or factories in more remote locations has been tried and has pretty much failed.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I wondered that also but it is fresh money not loans. Seems a easier sell to ask the Tory government for cash to boost the economy rather than money for benefits.

  • chrisjones2

    I would still fear that it will simply be wasted …frittered away on pet (Sectarian) projects and nonsense

  • Surveyor

    But on the other hand Belfast fights companies like John Lewis who don’t want to trade in Belfast and any investment gets delayed because Belfast stamped it’s feet and had a hissy fit. And you wonder why non Belfast residents resent the place?

  • Cosmo

    Belfast is such a small city – why can’t people learn they can travel to their jobs instead of expecting them to be round the corner?

  • Brian O’Neill

    The john Lewis case is interesting. They have a policy of setting up in town centres. So god knows why they wanted to setup in spruce field. It would have drained business from Belfast and Lisburn.

  • Trevorabh

    I’m with Brian here; our capital city is the magnet for Northern Ireland. The ideal solution would be for business ratepayers to have more of a say in Belfast City Centre until such a time as quality family sized apartments can be provided in all those office buildings of historic value that aren’t up to scratch for modern business needs.

  • Trevorabh

    The commuting aspect was ruined by transport policy in the sixties. We’ve had three generations now who love their cars and need to be coaxed rather than beaten back onto public transport.

  • Roy White

    As UK Gov is still spending more than it generates, I can’t see how this new money can be anything other than loans. At the right rate though, and with the right projects, we shld certainly avail of it.

  • Roy White

    Cars being driven into & parked all day in a city centre is a poor use of space and kills ppl due to pollution as well as road accidents. Higher car parking charges and/or congestion charges would reduce this as well as raise £ to make a more attractive city, improve Public Transport, provide better cycle lanes & pavements etc

  • Roy White

    This has to be seriously considered.
    Note though that the example is a Glasgow City “Region” scheme, with Glasgow City council leading it. It might make more sense to have a Belfast Metropolitan area scheme, and include Lisburn, Newtownabbey etc. Is there a “duty” on councils here to collaborate, as is the case in England?

  • Roger

    The higher charges would also be a real pain for lots of people….Making their lives harder.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    John Lewis were only going to set up one store, Brian, and Sprucefiled offered easier access for all the six counties and a fine road link with Dublin. And this setting up at communications sensitive points outside cities is pretty general for most of the new Waitrose and John Lewis stores over the past ten years.

  • Brian O’Neill

    If you look at their stores most are city centre. At the time one of their ex employees was on Talkback saying that their policy was to stick to city centres.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Incresingly they are siting stores on communications points the past few years, at laest those I see in the south of England, but any policy is pragmatic and will be adopted to the place it is to function in. I’d thought their Sprucefield policy was quite obvious……..