Belfast Telegraph

Architect draws up bold vision to revitalise city

Place NI is not the only organisation with ideas about Belfast's future.

Last week the Canadian architect Joe Berridge presented his Urban Strategies report after spending three months considering how the city centre could be improved.

His vision includes water-borne art festivals on the Lagan, more green spaces and Northern Ireland's first John Lewis department store, which would be located on Royal Avenue. In fact, the thoroughfare – also in the sights of PLACE NI, which has its offices on Lower Garfield Street at its lower end – needs a "major chess piece" to revitalise it. Mr Berridge suggested that BBC Northern Ireland could move its headquarters from Ormeau Avenue to anchor the avenue.

The architectural maestro identified eight policies to develop the city centre. There was a need to increase the employment population in the city, as well as increase the living population.

There was also a need to make the most of tourism, manage the retail offer, create a learning and innovation centre, create a green, walkable centre that was also fit for cycling in, as well as connecting the different parts of the city and creating a shared space.

But he was also swift to praise the city for what it had already achieved. He said Titanic Belfast and the MAC were "bold gambles" which paid off.

However, he also noted that half of the 600,000 visitors to Titanic Belfast did not go to other Belfast attractions, and said another attraction should be established to keep them interested.

He reserved his strongest criticisms for retail, however, and said: "CastleCourt needs investment and there is too much vacancy at Victoria Square."

First Minister Peter Robinson said the plans represented "a bold vision for Belfast city centre".

"As our capital city, Belfast is the heart of the local economy and with output well above the UK average, is already a top performer both locally and nationally," he added.

"These draft plans will ensure that Northern Ireland's already well-developed reputation as a great place to do live, work and do business will continue to grow and lead to further exciting new jobs and opportunities."

Belfast Telegraph