Next year will see a new look Belfast City Marathon after councillors agreed to changes to the iconic race’s route and usual race day at City Hall on Wednesday.
The council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee approved the plans with broad, cross-party support for the new look event, which for decades has seen thousands descend upon Northern Ireland’s capital city each May.
Typically costing around £600k annually, the Belfast City Marathon normally takes place on a Bank Holiday Monday, however next year the starter’s pistol will go off on a Sunday morning.
Chair of the City Growth committee, SDLP representative Donal Lyons, said the marathon is a great family day out and the 2019 routes should benefit local traders.
"The change of day will go down well, because it will allow Sunday marathon runners the day to recovery on Monday and hopefully give Belfast a potential boost for the our tourism trade," he added.
Sinn Fein's new council group leader Ciaran Beattie spoke following the meeting and said his party hope "route number one" of the two proposed routes will now go through a successful public consultation with few, if any, speed bumps.
"We're really happy, this will be the most balanced marathon yet in terms of geography and it will touch every part of our city," he said.
"It will now go down streets and neighbourhoods that it hasn't been before: the Lisburn Road, Finaghy to Anderstown and finishing in Ormeau.
"Parts of south Belfast and the Waterworks will now be included and, of course, everyone along the whole route will be consulted over any concerns."
New, more intricate routes for the course mean extra stewards will be required to handle the large, scattered crowds, costing an extra £50,000, bringing the total potential bill for next year’s event to around £650,000.
Several representatives felt this extra cash would be recouped and more through trade and tourism.
The marathon is not delivered and organised by BCC, rather Belfast City Marathon Limited - a free standing, legally constituted organisation that has no actual legal connection to the council, except in relation to funding.
Changing the race to a Sunday was recommended to organisers in a request from the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, who said the first May Bank Holiday should be a significant trading day and a move to a Sunday race would boost visitor numbers.
The plans discussed at Wednesday's meeting were drawn up with the input of a number of interested parties, including the PSNI, DfI, Translink and Athletics NI, with Belfast City Marathon Limited also engaging with some churches along the way.
At a meeting of Belfast City Councils City Growth and Regeneration Committee this evening it was agreed to recommend significant adjustments to Belfast City Marathon. As well as changing the day on which it is held to a Sunday, the Committee heard proposals on new routes and agreed to recommend a new city wide circuit.
Chair of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee and SDLP councillor for Balmoral Donal Lyons said:
“The marathon is a fantastic event for both runners and those cheering them on and I’m delighted that the committee tonight agreed to endorse the new route and the change of day.
“The route has changed quite a bit and spans all parts of the city. Starting in Stormont the marathon will sweep through the city to the Ormeau Road, curve south to include the Lisburn Road and Finaghy. It then heads up to Andersonstown Road, onto the Falls and across the Shankill to the Crumlin Road before heading back to the city centre. Ultimately the marathon will end as before in Ormeau Park and I have no doubt that the Ormeau area will continue to provide the festive atmosphere of previous years.
“As well as the direct benefits the marathon brings in terms of promoting healthy living and athleticism it benefits the city in wider ways. Participants in the marathon raise over £1 million per year for charity and it attracts participants from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
“Allowing the bank holiday Monday to be set aside for recovery will no doubt be welcomed by local participants but it will also make it easier for people to travel to Belfast, stay the few days and make a weekend out of it. The local shops along the route will also benefit from increased footfall and the festive atmosphere.
“While the final stamp of approval is due to be given on Monday night at the full Council meeting, I have no doubt that this good piece of news will be seen for what it is. The volunteers who organise the marathon do a fantastic job and deliver a world class professional event every year without fail, and I’m confident the Council recognises this.“