Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Aiming for city centre regeneration strategy

With regard to a recent John Simpson article in the Business Telegraph headed A Tale of Two Cities, it should be noted that the approach advocated in Londonderry which he praises was actually driven by the Department for Social Development and is precisely what DSD is seeking to achieve for Belfast - guided by a clear framework for which there is widespread support.

With regard to a recent John Simpson article in the Business Telegraph headed A Tale of Two Cities, it should be noted that the approach advocated in Londonderry which he praises was actually driven by the Department for Social Development and is precisely what DSD is seeking to achieve for Belfast - guided by a clear framework for which there is widespread support.

The purpose of G. V. A. Grimley's recent document Belfast City Centre - Regeneration Policy Framework is to actually give that vision and direction that Mr Simpson says has been lacking.

This framework, which has been open to public consultation, provides the basis for the formation of a strategy for coherent and sustainable retail?led regeneration in the Belfast city centre area.

The proposed framework does not try to impose the "norms of a desirable social model";, rather it responds specifically to the needs of the development market, residents and visitors while establishing priorities which allow investment to take place in an orderly manner, thereby maximising public benefit.

It is this the very order and guidance which the private sector is seeking and which is being provided in successful cities elsewhere in the UK, for example, Manchester.

Mr Simpson also raised the issue of "lack of attention" to the inner city areas.

It is not that these are being neglected but that a successful city needs a successful city centre.

It is not appropriate to have competing interests to the disadvantage of the city centre.

The inner city areas will be addressed through implementation of the Community strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal - People and Place, published by DSD earlier this year.

It has become common practice in successful city centres to establish priorities in terms of new development to promote and facilitate an orderly investment programme.

The purpose is to avoid destructive competition for occupiers that reduces rental levels and investment values and prejudices development projects.

On Mr Simpson's point that there is no certainty that the private sector will deliver the strategy as envisaged by DSD, the intention is not to dictate to the private sector but it merely seeks to guide it.

Moreover, it is not a "prescriptive" strategy but one that is flexible to change.

The focus of the framework is on the city centre.

It advocates a policy of developing from the "heart" outwards, hence a concentration on the retail core.

Overall, the ambition is to bring benefit to citizens of Belfast as a whole and to raise the standing of Belfast as a European city.

This can only be achieved through a successful city centre.

The report does not ignore out-of-centre development/initiatives such as Titanic Quarter but that is what they are - "out of centre" and, in keeping with good practice, will only be supported by DSD where they do not adversely impact on the regeneration of the City Centre.

On the issue of what DSD might do to encourage investors, DSD's role will be to co-ordinate a strategy for regeneration of the city centre, bring regeneration expertise and assist with the assembly of sites within the priority areas.

The resources required and available to make this possible are dependent on the outcome on the public consultation on the Grimley report and are, therefore, yet to be determined.

COLM SHANNON, Principal Information Officer, Department for Social Development.

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