Blueprint for Belfast's growth proposes rezoning business space for leisure and residential use
Belfast has double the amount of space it needs for economic growth over the next 15 years, a major new strategic document has revealed.
And planners say the Belfast Local Development Plan has brought into focus the need for more residential and leisure space in the city centre.
New office-related developments in Belfast include Merchant Square at Wellington Place.
The public are being encouraged to have their say on the range of policies before November 15, which cover the development of living spaces, economic areas, infrastructure and the environment.
The proposals, expected to come into force in 2020, will ultimately form the basis of planning decisions in Belfast City Council up to 2035 and beyond.
It's the first time the council has produced a local development plan in almost 40 years.
Among the stand-out findings is the 550,000 sq m of floorspace planners believe will be needed to meet economic growth in the city over the next 15 years.
It includes 330,000 sq m in the city centre, 82,000 sq m in Belfast Harbour and 138,000 sq m throughout the rest of the city.
But assessment of current and projected 'employment sites' reveals there is 612,000 sq m of an oversupply.
Compiled with Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre, the figures are based on vacant spaces, 'opportunity sites' and zoned lands within the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP).
Speaking at the document's launch at Belfast City Hall yesterday, town planner Dermot O'Kane said: "We've looked at the existing zoning identified in BMAP, we've looked at the vacancy rates, we've looked at some of the opportunity sites, where there has been clearance and there is car parking.
"That's identified that we have probably double the amount of land that we need for economic growth that we need for going forward."
The oversupply has refocused attention on the need for more residential development.
"Because it's a holistic plan, we started thinking if it's not needed for employment use, is it better used for leisure, hotels, residential, which we see as being absolutely critical to the city's development," Mr O'Kane added
Between 1971 and 2011 Belfast's population fell by more than a third.
It left a 'doughnut effect' on the city. Around 100,000 people travel into Belfast chiefly for work every day.
Belfast City Council's projects will have 66,000 new residents by 2035, with ambitions of 46,000 more jobs being created by then.
Mr O'Kane explained that the plan is for many of them to live in the city centre itself.
"We want to move away from what has been happening over the last 20 or 30 years, where people have tended to move out into the metropolitan area or further beyond and then leave that doughnut effect in the centre of the city, and the dereliction that followed.
"We see it as key in terms of sustainability for that population to be encouraged back in to live in Belfast again, for people to walk or cycle to work and avail of healthier forms of transport that aren't as onerous in terms of car journeys and pollution and various things associated with it," he said.