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Belfast economy booming, but rest of NI lagging badly

By John Mulgrew

Belfast was the top economically performing city in the UK last year, according to fresh figures. It outpaced cities such as London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, with the gross value added (GVA) measurement per head up by 4.7%.

However, Northern Ireland only experienced growth of 1.4% as a whole.

And one economist said that the overall figures from the Office for National Statistics were "deeply concerning".

In 2015 the level of GVA per head in Northern Ireland was only 73% of the UK average - the second lowest of a major UK region.

Dr Esmond Birnie of Ulster University said: "First of all, a bit of qualified good news. When ONS considered data on annual nominal income growth in 10 UK cities, Belfast came top of the league in 2014-15.

"A growth rate of 4.7% compared to Edinburgh's 4.5%, Cardiff's 2.6% and London's 1.6%. Admittedly, some of these figures are distorted by inflation and the impact of commuting.

"However, the rest of the data were less reassuring."

He said the concern was that only Wales came out lower, based on the UK average of GVA.

And the north east of England has pulled ahead of Northern Ireland, with 75% of the UK average.

"It is perhaps the long run trend which is most concerning," Dr Birnie added.

"Whereas in 1997, the first year for which ONS presented this data, the level of GVA per head in Northern Ireland was 82% of the UK average and that figure increased to a peak of 83.6% in 2007; since 2007 there has been a continuous decline.

"Northern Ireland has been falling behind throughout the last eight or so years."

The north of Northern Ireland had the lowest overall average levels of GVA, with £13,919 a head.

Belfast had an average GVA of £35,023.

Meanwhile, the number of planning applications in Northern Ireland is up by 5% based on the same period a year earlier, official figures have shown. There were 3,058 planning applications received during July to September 2016, a decrease of 11% over the previous quarter, but up by 5% on the same quarter in 2015/16.

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