£150m revamp helps 'reinvent' city
A £150 million facelift announced for Belfast will help the city reinvent itself, First Minister Peter Robinson has said.
The new investment strategy, which includes a £20 million extension of the landmark conference and concert venue the Waterfront Hall, has been hailed as the biggest ever revamp agreed by Belfast City Council, despite government austerity measures and the problems facing the construction industry.
Mr Robinson said: "Belfast has become one of the most dynamic cities in the world and is clearly a city that has reinvented itself."
Since the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994 the city centre has blossomed, with eye-catching buildings including the Waterfront Hall on the River Lagan. Efforts have also been made to improve rundown residential areas, although many are still overshadowed by peace walls keeping Catholics and Protestants apart.
Government jobs creation agency Invest NI has attracted multinationals including Allstate technology company and a branch of the New York Stock Exchange to the city, although the downturn has seen thousands left jobless.
Although the city boasts universities including Queen's University Belfast, almost one in five young people are out of work in Northern Ireland and youth unemployment has doubled since 2008. An estimated 59,000 were unemployed last autumn, said the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
The three-year capital programme for Belfast could help promote thousands of jobs and will also see work on a green economy business park on the North Foreshore site and an innovation centre in Springvale in the west of the city.
While the blueprint will create a guaranteed 200 jobs within the council, the projects earmarked for investment are expected to generate hundreds more during construction. The council will invest around £100 million, with £50 million more expected from European funding pots and the Stormont Executive.
Of the council's share, £20 million will be generated from an anticipated 2.6% rise in rate bills. It will mean the average household bill going up by 35p per week and £2.86 for businesses. The council said the rise was well below the rate of inflation.
John Armstrong, head of the Construction Employers Federation, said: "It is great news and not just from the perspective of the construction industry," he said. "This is key to getting the economy going. Belfast City Council is setting a great example that we hope other councils will follow."