Belfast to have five quarters instead of four after Sinn Fein complain west Belfast is left out
A proposal to revitalise Belfast city centre now has five 'quarters' instead of four after Sinn Fein complained that inner west Belfast had been ignored in the plan.
Future Belfast was launched last June, and endorsed by First Minister Peter Robinson as a bold vision for the city.
It was developed by Canadian planning expert Joe Berridge and includes a major new transport hub at Great Victoria Street, the relocation of the BBC headquarters, new river crossings and a John Lewis store.
However, last September Mairtin O Muilleoir, then a Sinn Fein councillor, blasted the plan as potentially "Balkanising" the city centre.
He said his party would not back the plan unless it was expanded to include a west city quarter.
A meeting of the Belfast shadow council heard on Tuesday evening that the plan has been rewritten to now include five quarters.
They are South Centre, Oxford Street and Queen's Quay, North East, North Centre - and now the Western Quarter.
It also contains a suggestion that Oxford Street could be closed off to traffic, creating a new pedestrianised zone, and making Victoria Street two-way. However, none of this has been agreed yet by the council.
Sinn Fein is currently in discussions about developing the proposed Western Quarter into what the party describes as an "Irish Quarter".
This would include branding the area as an Irish cultural hub specialising in Irish music, food, home-grown crafts and jewellery among other things.
It is being proposed to tie in with advancing plans to build a Raidio Failte facility in Divis Street and the community-led Folktown Market.
However, DUP councillor Brian Kingston stressed that the city centre must remain open and welcoming to all.
"I haven't heard these proposals from Sinn Fein about an Irish Quarter, they haven't been discussed within the council, but I would say the city centre needs to be a shared zone," he said.
"We would be concerned about how sections of the city centre are branded because it needs to be a shared space and remain as such.
"We want to see investment and regeneration in all parts of the city centre, and all the parties opposed the designation of any part of the city centre as a west Belfast zone. We agreed that the city centre is a shared space and must remain a shared space for everyone."
Mr Kingston stressed that the plan had not been endorsed by the council and said he had reservations about some aspects, such as a proposal to pedestrianise Oxford Street.
"We are not endorsing the plan, because with a plan like this there are a lot of suggestions," he said.
"Some of these were traffic suggestions, such as closing Oxford Street to traffic and making Victoria Street two-way.
"There were a few specific things that we had not seen so far, so we are making clear that this can't go out as though it has been endorsed by the councillors. This is just a range of ideas that has been put together."
The draft city centre regeneration strategy and investment plan is expected to go out for public consultation later this year.
Belfast: Future City is an ambition new development plan put forward by internationally renowned Canadian planner Joe Berridge last June. It envisaged four focus points. The plan has been taken on by Belfast City Council to examine how to put it into action. It has proposed expanding to five focus points to include the west part of the city centre.