Belfast Telegraph

Belfast needs devolution: Chamber of Commerce

By John Mulgrew

Belfast should be handed devolved powers from Stormont over areas such as tax and regeneration by the end of the current Executive, it has been claimed.

Gordon McElroy, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, made the proposal at the launch of the group's Belfast First manifesto.

He said he eventually wanted to see full powers transferred across to the city.

Mr McElroy added that he wanted key retail and office developments, such as Royal Exchange in the city, to begin as soon as possible.

He also raised a number of renewed concerns about large out-of-town developments such as Sprucefield.

"If you get Belfast right, everything else flows from that," Mr McElroy explained, adding that he wanted to see full devolution for the city "over time".

"At the moment, we are not in that place, so there's no point in asking for things which would only create obstacles," he said.

"The transfer of regeneration powers, that's very important. We would like to see (devolution) happen now. Certainly within the lifespan of this Executive."

Dozens of top business leaders and politicians packed into Stormont's Long Gallery to launch the scheme yesterday morning.

The manifesto proposes the introduction of "fairer rates and taxes" to support business and attract new ones, improve infrastructure and grow Belfast as a tech hub for top firms.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said: "I think when people step up and fight their corner, it's good.

"I think that this is an ambitious plan. I don't agree with everything in it... some of the comments around the taxation system and how you make that work."

Lord Mayor of Belfast Brian Kingston added: "It is an ambitious manifesto, and one which echoes many of the priorities which Belfast City Council has laid down for itself in the same period, not least through the city centre regeneration and investment strategy."

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