Belfast has many reasons to be positive as we look to the future
Our capital may have suffered a blow in its bid to join Derry & Strabane as European City of Culture, but Joe Marley, head of commercial property at Belfast law firm Cleaver Fulton Rankin, still believes the outlook is bright
Belfast has undergone something of a transformation in the past 20 years with a number of key regeneration and development projects conceived many years ago by true visionaries driving the city forward.
But what will the Belfast of 2035 look like and what are the challenges we need to overcome to continue this positive trajectory?
This was the topic of a panel discussion held at the new Titanic Hotel last Tuesday, hosted by Cleaver Fulton Rankin, with a panel of experts made up of Suzanne Wylie (Belfast City Council), John McGrillen (Tourism NI), Chris Conway (Translink) and Shane Quinn (Belfast Building Trust).
Brexit unsurprisingly features front and centre when assessing the challenges. The business community in particular appears to be almost at one in its collective trepidation. But by 2035, who knows how it will be viewed. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, the current foreboding will prove unfounded.
Longer standing issues include the need to tackle social inequalities and deprivation in some neighbouring and surrounding areas of the city, comparatively low levels of inactivity, housing and the physically segregated communities.
The opportunities on the other hand appear boundless.
The trend towards greater autonomy for cities such as Belfast as economic drivers for the wider region is an exciting prospect. The proposed City Deal announced in the recent budget has so much potential, if the right projects can be identified.
Regeneration opportunities abound in places like the north inner city. By 2035, we may also see the revitalisation of the river-side areas in the city.
On the tourism front, Belfast has had some very high-profile endorsements in recent months. However, having started from such a low base, we have a long way to go and Tourism NI are hoping for continued growth in tourist numbers in the coming years.
We clearly have capacity, with hotel developers in particular visibly confident that we will generate demand for the extra beds about to come online.
Will the congestion in the city have improved by 2035?
With greater investment in public transport, Translink certainly thinks so.
For a start, the new Belfast Transportation Hub should be well established. This should provide greater connectivity and reduce congestion, as well as creating an excellent first impression to visitors. Perhaps the city centre will be a low emission zone.
And, of course, permeating all of this will be technological advances, increased digital connectivity and advances we simply cannot yet predict.