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Belfast city centre manager says city on cusp of exciting times

By Claire McNeilly

Belfast's new city centre manager says she has taken up the post at what is a dynamic time for Northern Ireland.

But Geraldine Duggan also warned of challenges ahead for traders with Brexit looming on the horizon.

Ms Duggan, who assumed her role at the end of last year, said she was excited about "a time of great change" in the city.

"There's a new dynamic with Ulster University coming on board and another business district being developed behind City Hall; there's a fresh energy about the place," she said.

"The tide had turned and there's a great deal of change and improvement. I certainly want to be part of that."

But the 54-year-old added: "The UK leaving the European Union is going to be a big challenge. Manufacturing costs are going to go up so profit margins are going to go down, so there's an element of apprehension in what's going to happen next."

Ms Duggan replaced Andrew Irvine, one of Belfast's most prominent businessmen, who stepped down from the position last September to become boss of the East Belfast Mission.

The pair worked closely together and "got on very well" at Belfast City Centre Management, where she has spent the last decade employed as operations manager before assuming the top job in December.

As Mr Irvine's unofficial number two, the Dromore native, who now lives in the Carrickfergus area with her partner Michael (52), is very familiar with the demands of the job.

"I came from within the organisation itself - I was responsible for the projects - so I know a lot of the people," she added.

"We work with different groups in the city, such as Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, and it's about establishing how we deliver better for the city.

"Our remit extends to many areas - including safety of the city, retail, sales performance research - and we keep the business community and keep them connected with what's going on."

Although she recognises the "undeniable" challenges that lie ahead in terms of Brexit and, perhaps closer to home, Belfast's contentious bus lanes, Ms Duggan said she was determined to "keep getting the positive message out there".

She added: "There's so much change happening. We're on the cusp of very exciting times."

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