Deal 'could give Belfast a decade of investment'
A deal for Belfast could see a decade of investment to help boost and improve the region, it has been claimed.
Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed that a consultation will now begin into a "City Deal" for Belfast.
That could give Belfast additional devolved powers with greater control over the spending of public money and over transport and investment.
Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala McAllister said the deal "would be a 10-year investment plan to improve infrastructure in the region, develop innovation and skills, and attract more and better jobs".
Neil Gibson, chief economist with EY Ireland, said the "specific mention of a Belfast City Deal was welcome and will add impetus to the work already underway to shape and focus such a deal".
But he said that "it is important to remember this is a deal, not a no-strings-attached pot of money".
Mr Gibson added: "It requires careful agreement as to what is funded and how the performance of those investments are measured. The requirement will be investments that deliver a tangible return.
"In Britain many of the deals focus on the transfer of powers, many of which already reside with devolved governments, so if and when Stormont returns it will have an influence on the particular nature of the Belfast deal." But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was "shocking" that the Chancellor had "completely ignored" Londonderry.
That was reiterated by Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts.
"Retail NI has long championed the need for City Deals for Belfast and Londonderry and we welcome the Chancellor's green light of negotiations for a Belfast deal," he said.
"However, we are disappointed and surprised that a city deal for Londonderry was not included."
But David Armstrong, PwC partner in Belfast, said that with Belfast slipping down its poll of the top cities to live and work in the UK, "moving towards a City Deal for Belfast should provide the city with a more cohesive set of levers to boost competitiveness across the entire region where Northern Ireland is already struggling to grow productivity that is still languishing around pre-recession levels".