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Belfast needs a riverside park on the banks of the Lagan more than it needs shops, offices and flats

With significant planning powers now returned to local government, it is to be hoped that imaginative development proposals will germinate from the bottom up.

With its recent Belfast Agenda, the council's elected guardians of the public interest have set out their stall for growing a prosperous, environmentally friendly and inclusive city of tomorrow.

The new developers of the vast 16-acre Sirocco site on the east bank of the Lagan identify with this agenda and will be conducting public consultations over the next couple of months prior to seeking planning approval.

Unfortunately, the proposals, with the usual retail/office/hotel/apartment mix, with a 20-year completion horizon, beg the question of what is added to the unique place which is Belfast?

Eighteen months ago, I wrote to the Belfast Telegraph, arguing that temporary green use of the site as an urban garden would go a long way to softening the blot on the urban landscape. I would now go further.

The site is an obvious candidate for a new, exciting urban riverside park, duly sculpted with room for novel features. Indeed, the location is also an ideal one for a Belfast aquarium - a concept currently mooted as a new tourist attraction.

Over 100 years ago, Belfast Corporation found the money to acquire Botanic Gardens in the public interest. The Palm House remains the jewel in the crown of the park to this day. Is similar imagination not required now?

The city is more than a crude delivery mechanism for jobs. It is also about creating the type of place that people want to invest in, live in, visit and enjoy.

WILLIAM J V NEILL

Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning

University of Aberdeen

Public should help set make-up of Executive

The first task now is to appoint an Executive, so let the Assembly have a process in which all MLAs can participate, not just a d'Hondt procedure for a few leaders.

Forming an administration in a verbal process can be problematic and protracted. Last year, it took the Irish parliament 70 days, while the Spanish needed two elections and 313 days.

When the Dail was finding it so difficult, the de Borda Institute, the Irish Times and DCU held a joint public meeting in Ballymun, in which the public role-played 'TDs' forming a government of national unity.

The procedure, known as a 'matrix vote', allowed each 'TD' to vote in order of preference not only for those whom he/she wanted in government, but also for the particular department in which each of these nominees was to serve. The task was done in just one day (with electronic voting).

The matrix vote was PR, so the outcome was an Executive in which every party was represented and all the successful ministers were well-suited to their particular appointment.

The matrix vote was first tested at the New Ireland Group's People's Convention of 1986, a public meeting of over 200, ranging from unionists, like the late Sir Edward Archdale, to republicans, such as Alex Maskey.

Since then, this voting methodology has been tested on many occasions in many venues, from Belfast to Dublin, from Berlin to Tianjin. It is proportional, robust, inclusive, accurate and, most importantly perhaps, gender and ethno-colour-blind - perfect for any ex-conflict zone.

PETER EMERSON

Director, the de Borda Institute, Belfast

Abuse of cycle lanes really grinds my gears

When is a bicycle lane not a bicycle lane?

When cars sail down pretending they're going to turn left,

When buses swerve in,

When builders leave a skip on it,

When trucks don't fit in their lane,

When pedestrians think there's more room for them on the road,

When drivers' indicators "don't work",

When vehicles pass on the inside,

When oncoming traffic tries to mow you down,

When the council doesn't clean up litter,

When five cars and vans race through a red light.

That's when a bicycle lane is not a bicycle lane.

EVE PARNELL

By email

Mumbling actors spoil big-budget BBC drama

Has anyone been able to make out what the actors were saying in the first episode of the much-hyped new BBC drama SS-GB?

It's completely ludicrous. The BBC spends millions on a fictional drama set in an England that had been defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941 and then employs actors that can only mumble their way through the programme. Obviously, nobody in the BBC "has ways of making them talk".

IVOR SHORTS

By email

Charities' thanks for street collections

NI CHEST HEART & STROKE: Belfast (Dec 20) £2528.29; Coleraine (Nov 25) £728.48.

V SAUNDERS

ACTION MS NI: South Belfast (Jan 2017) £856.21: Antrim (Jan 6) £510; Carryduff (Jan 12) £304.01; East Belfast (Jan 28) £872.23.

I MARTIN

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Belfast (Feb 11) £707.60; Holywood (Jan 28) £240.00; Newcastle (Feb 18) £453.

R McGREEVY

Making a difference with Tanzania work

My name is Amy Anderson. I am a 17-year-old student at Strathearn School in Belfast. This summer my schoolfriend Sophie and I are going to Tanzania with a charity called Go Make A Difference (GoMAD).

In addition to raising our own travel costs, we have been asked to raise £1,000 to help with projects. Our primary focus will be building water storage facilities in a remote community in northern Tanzania.

Fresh, clean water is something we take for granted, but many of the poorest people in Tanzania have no access to it. As a result, disease and poor health are another blight to add to the poverty these people already struggle against.

We want to Go Make A Difference. More information about our trip can be found here: http://gomakeadifference.co.uk/trips/what-projects-can-i-get-involved-in/musoma/ and our Justgiving page is at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sophieandamy.

AMY ANDERSON

Newtownards, Co Down

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