Belfast Telegraph

Choice of homes is essential in Belfast's future

By Cameron Watt

What could Belfast city centre look like in 30 years' time? Recently, Joe Berridge – one of the world's top town planners – set out his vision for our city centre.

His firm, Urban Strategies, has been tasked by Belfast City Council to help formulate a regeneration plan.

Overall, it is an exciting vision. Quality of life will be improved through more green space, less dominant roads, and improving the connections between the centre and the surrounding areas.

Employment will be boosted through cultivating a knowledge economy and a big increase in good-quality office space to support it. The tourism and retail offerings can both be further enhanced.

Repopulating the city centre is rightly identified as vital to fulfil this vision.

Many more workers and consumers will be needed.

However, the blueprint for residential development is narrow and uninspiring. Its focus is on apartments for incoming young professionals and local empty-nesters.

Public land and riverside sites are envisaged being set aside to create this.

Belfast city centre needs a healthy market for private housing. But to realise the centre's potential, we need to be more ambitious and offer a fuller range of housing options.

Creating a vibrant city centre that is mixed-income, mixed-tenure and shared is a stretching, but realistic aim.

As well as apartments for transient workers, social rented, private rented and co-ownership housing for families will create a healthy mix.

Housing associations have invested many tens of millions of pounds in Belfast in recent years and are ready to help build new communities with a variety of housing and the infrastructure to support new residents.

Managed carefully, a mix of housing will not scare private investors; indeed it can help attract them.

A diverse range of high- quality homes is essential in creating a city centre we can be proud of.

Cameron Watt is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations

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