Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Now let's build a European capital of the future

As anyone who has ever been abroad can readily testify, cities on the continent are much more alive late into the night

Sometimes it takes an outsider to put things in perspective for us. Canadian Joe Berridge, a well-regarded international town planner, has had a look at Belfast and, seemingly, is not overly impressed with what he saw.

He was able to judge the city's infrastructure and facilities with an unbiased eye and without any vested interest.

Certainly we should listen to what he has to say. He wants Belfast to become a more European capital, with a greater number of people living in the centre.

As anyone who has ever been abroad can readily testify, cities on the continent are much more alive late into the night. That is not just about clubs and pubs, but because the city centre has a resident population which then demands more facilities to service it, such as late night transport and late night shopping.

It might seem strange that Mr Berridge is suggesting more high-end retailing in the city centre, given the difficulties the sector is experiencing already.

But his vision of a John Lewis, or similar, retailer on Royal Avenue would make it a more attractive shopping destination, not just for people in the city but also those living elsewhere in Northern Ireland or along the border counties.

He also has innovative ideas for creating new facilities – such as roofing over the courtyard of the City Hall to create a new exhibition area – and for joining up areas of the city currently separated by the River Lagan. And many would welcome his proposals for establishing new walkways and better-lit areas, banishing those who would prey on the unwary.

Belfast is a city with a proud heritage and has survived wars, recession and sectarian strife which would have broken a less resilient capital. It has always been open to new ideas and its city fathers will give Mr Berridge's proposals a fair hearing.

There is great potential in what he says and that is always exciting.

Of course, bringing this vision to reality will not be be cheap or quick, but the rewards and the legacy which could be created could more than outweigh the investment required.

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