Ex-BBC chief says focusing on quality of life and environment is key to bright future
Belfast could become a modern green city such as Copenhagen or Helsinki and see a “massive increase in its competitiveness” due to its unique position post-Brexit, a former chair of the BBC has said.
Sir Michael Lyons is heading up a commission examining how Belfast and Northern Ireland can grow and expand.
And Sir Michael said that while it has outlined a series of areas to fuel growth, he is not in favour of slashing our corporation tax rate, saying “it produces a race to the bottom”.
But speaking about the latest flare-up in political instability and trouble here in recent months, Sir Michael said while it remained a risk to our ability to attract foreign investment, it is “set against a very different climate as a result of the peace process”.
“We are very optimistic about the future of cities in general, and Belfast in particular,” he told the Ulster Business Podcast, sponsored by Calibro.
“It has the opportunity to put itself ‘on the map’ by focusing on quality of life and quality of environment.”
The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission has published a series of recommendations for the city and beyond.
That includes taking more action on climate change, increasing housing provision in the city centre, growing and focusing on burgeoning areas such as tech and cyber-security, as well as reskilling.
“(Belfast) has many strengths but it needs to do more to compete with great European cities, and it has the opportunity to do that because it is in a splendid physical setting.
“I don’t think it’s impossible to look at cities like Helsinki and Copenhagen, they have many years’ lead, but they have attractive physical locations and they are cities which have emphasised their benefits and worked on them, kept a consistent strategy and encouraged innovation.”
Sir Michael said Belfast was still far too reliant on fossil fuels and “has a long way to travel to catch up with the UK target of carbon neutrality by 2050”.
Asked whether the pockets of violence seen in Belfast and elsewhere earlier this year, and the current political situation, is a threat to attracting foreign investment, he said: “Of course it is a risk… recent events, although newsworthy and covered across the world, are set against a very different climate as a result of the peace process.”
And on the post-Brexit environment, Sir Michael says we could see “potentially a massive increase in its competitiveness” given its unique position.
“(It’s a) relatively small area in which the two trading zones come together,” he said.
But he said lowering Northern Ireland’s corporation tax to compete with other areas, including the Republic — something which has been on the agenda here for decades — is not the avenue to pursue.
“I think it produces a race to the bottom and you just keep on competing with others who might, for different reasons, be in a stronger position to do it.”
“Much more important in our location is that investment will come to a place which is ahead of the game in terms of the carbon challenge. It will come to places which offer attractive housing, a lively city centre and a ready supply of skilled young people.”
You can listen to the podcast at www.ulsterbusiness.com/interview