£250m Titanic tourist attraction and transport system set for Belfast
A Titanic-themed tourist attraction and a rapid transit transport system are to be built in Belfast as part of a £250 million investment announced today.
The £100 million Titanic Signature project will be located on the same site on which the famous White Star Line vessel was built almost 100 years ago by Harland and Wolff shipyard workers.
The £150 million transport route will run from the east to the west of the city and so link two areas traditionally divided on religious grounds.
Stormont ministers gave the go-ahead for the ambitious infrastructure projects during their weekly Executive meeting.
It is hoped the five-storey Titanic centre will be open to the public ahead of the centenary of the boat's sinking in April 1912.
The Executive is providing half the funding with a range of other stakeholders, including Belfast City Council, contributing the other £50 million.
The attraction will also incorporate conference facilities, and is expected to see 800,000 users a year and generate £46 million annually for the local economy.
The future of the project had been thrown into doubt last year when a bid for lottery funding was turned down.
Work on the rapid transit system is set to get under way in 2011 and one of its stops will be at the new Titanic centre, which is on the east side of Belfast Lough.
It will run from the Milmount in the east to Glenmona in the west and will call at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Stormont, the City Hall, the Royal Victoria Hospital and a number of other destinations.
Ministers had rejected proposals for a full tram network on cost grounds, with the rapid transit system described as being a "tram on wheels".
The Titanic project will not get the official green light until the other stakeholders formally sign up, but First Minister Peter Robinson said he was satisfied that their agreement would be forthcoming.
"This is important not just for Belfast but for the whole of Northern Ireland," said Mr Robinson.
"This is a key project for our tourist industry."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said there was an onus on the City of Belfast to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
"This is the most famous ship in the whole world," said the Sinn Fein Minister.
"It would be a crime for us to pass the 100th anniversary and not have a project of this nature in place.
"I think this project will have very big international appeal and will surely boost tourist figures not just in Belfast but for the whole island of Ireland."
At today's executive meeting ministers also discussed plans to draw up a package of measures to help home owners struggling through the credit crunch. The First and Deputy First Ministers are going to America next week to meet with potential investors but an executive sub committee will meet in their absence to take work on the economic package further.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the local construction industry would also benefit from the project.
Building is set to begin in January and it is envisaged that as many as 600 workers will be required on site to ensure the centre is ready to open in 2012.
"At a time when the Northern Ireland construction industry is under significant pressure, this project will deliver a much-needed boost to the sector," said Mrs Foster.
"At the project's peak there will be some 600 workers on site. And that is without counting the additional benefits created through indirect and induced employment, which the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors estimate at two additional jobs for every construction job created.
"The Titanic Signature Project will bring the story of RMS Titanic back home to Belfast, where she and her sister ships were designed and built.
"It provides Belfast and Northern Ireland with a tremendous opportunity to develop an iconic, world-class visitor destination, achieving international standout and delivering the economic and social benefits such a tourist attraction can bring."
The Government's contribution is £43.5 million of estimated total bill of £97 million.
As well as an anticipated £10 million from the city council, the additional funding will be provided by the Belfast Harbour Commission and private developer Titanic Quarter Limited.
One of the futuristic buses which will travel along a new £150m route between the east and the west of the city
In regard to the £150 million rapid transit system, Transport Minister Conor Murphy said: "This project is our opportunity to create a new dynamic transportation system for Belfast, one that helps link people to jobs, hospitals, schools and colleges.
"It will also link communities to the city centre and the emerging opportunities in Titanic Quarter, and can be expanded to other parts of the city in due course.
"The development of Rapid Transit will also result in a boost to the local economy, with employment opportunities in engineering, construction and operation of the new system. It will help to regenerate neighbourhoods and open up new development opportunities.
"The speed, reliability and comfort of the service will attract drivers out of their cars as they see the advantages of rapid transit. It is also expected to attract over 5.5 million passengers a year and there will be high frequency services every five minutes at rush-hour."
Similar systems are in use in cities such as Las Vegas, Adelaide, and Amsterdam.