A £1BN plan designed to create up to 20,000 new skilled jobs in the Belfast region alongside a 10-year programme of economic growth is set to be signed off by the autumn, the Finance Minister has confirmed.
Announced in 2018, the Belfast City Region Deal is a package of funding and decision-making powers agreed between central government and local regions. It is made up of 22 integrated projects and involves six local councils, Queen's University, Ulster University, further education colleges and the Civil Service.
The deal has four key themes: innovation and digital; boosting tourism; infrastructure; and employability and skills.
Infrastructure projects include investment in the Belfast Rapid Transport (BRT) scheme, extending dedicated bus lanes, new halts and upgraded roads to improve the connection to and with the wider Glider service. Phase two of the BRT will extend to the neighbouring council areas of Antrim and Newtownabbey, as well as Lisburn and Castlereagh.
In terms of boosting tourism, the deal includes a ‘Belfast Story Destination Hub’, an attraction telling stories of the city through a multi-gallery experience, and a new science park at St Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said: "The Belfast Region City Deal is progressing towards signing the deal document. City Deals are long term capital investment programmes and there is a significant amount of work to be done in developing proposals between signing heads of terms and agreeing a deal document. Work continues on this at pace. I anticipate that the deal document will be signed in autumn."
SDLP group leader on Belfast City Council, Donal Lyons, who is also a member of the council's City Growth and Regeneration Committee, said the region deal "couldn't come at a more important time" for the city.
"But we collectively need to take a breath and recognise that access to both European and UK markets offers us a significant competitive advantage. If you look at some of the work our universities are already doing in health and life sciences or some of the advanced manufacturing for example, there’s real opportunities there," he added.
"Recasting old industries through Research and Development, like the shipyards for example, offers us the ability to create greener, better paid and locally rooted jobs. What’s more, these sectors also offer proper careers as opposed to the minimum wage, zero hour contract positions that a lot of young people have been forced to take up.
"We also need to take advantage of the fact that we sit on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, one of the biggest sources of natural energy in the world. It’s clear that renewable energy technologies are the future and we’re well placed to develop hydro and tidal energy research.
"In comparison to other cities, quite a lot of land in Belfast City Centre is in public ownership and that can be used to rejuvenate and rebalance the city and raise the quality of living.”