Viewpoint: Launched on a slipway to the future
As peace dividends go, the green light given by the planners for the second phase of Belfast's Titanic quarter must be the greatest so far. It means that in the course of the next 15 years, Queen's Island will be totally transformed from a derelict shipyard to a £1.5bn city-within-a-city, with a mixed development comprising offices, apartments and landmark tourism attractions.
Everyone connected with the project, from those with the vision to see its potential to the planners who have wasted no time giving it their approval, deserves credit for one of the most ambitious construction schemes in Europe. A city that was once a byword for conflict is about to see another huge expansion to its waterfront property, making it a mecca for company investors as well as private individuals.
The physical link with the Titanic is the initial attraction, but the scale of the 185-acre brownfield site, within walking distance of the city centre, allows for every aspect of city life to be catered for. A model development can be created, from virtually nothing, so that environmental concerns and imaginative public transport schemes can be incorporated - hopefully alongside the Titanic signature building, bidding for heritage lottery funds.
The go-ahead for Titanic Quarter is one of the last pieces in the giant jigsaw that began with the Lagan weir, covering unsightly mudbanks, and a series of major projects like the Waterside hall, set in motion by the Laganside Development Corporation. Little by little, Belfast's city centre has been expanded towards the river, and there is much more building work and modernisation to come.
Just last week, there was news that the 16-acre Sirocco Works site, where so much machinery for India's tea industry was manufactured, is to be developed with a mix of apartments, hotel and healthcare facilities, all boasting their "green" credentials. After the 10-year building programme for 2,000 apartments, it is reckoned there will be jobs for 2,300 people - with local residents fully consulted.
Next year, the much-anticipated Victoria Centre will be opened, dwarfing all previous shopping centres and almost filling the gap between the city centre and the waterfront. Already its glass dome has become a familiar landmark, and soon there will be a much taller building on the skyline - the £50m Obel Tower skyscraper near the Customs House. For a few short years it will be the city's highest building, until the £90m Aurora in Great Victoria Street takes over, a mixed apartment/hotel development.
Meanwhile, a £300m regeneration plan is foreseen for the Cathedral Quarter, where already nightlife is booming. With so much hope and solid investment around, the bad old days of dull, divided Belfast should be permanently banished to the past.