Extra £20k will help us sell Belfast, says council ahead of trip to Riviera
Belfast City Council has defended asking for an extra £20,000 for a trip to the French Riviera that is already costing ratepayers £60,000.
At a meeting of the council's city growth and regeneration committee on Wednesday night, members voted through the request.
The additional money was wanted for a larger stand at 2019's MIPIM, one of the world's biggest property expos, previously described as the prime event in the European real estate calendar.
Officers have also been asked to "scope out" options for re-positioning the Belfast stand in a better area with more visitors.
Belfast City Council said: "This allows us to host greater networking opportunities and other events to ensure Belfast participants are able to better highlight the city's attractiveness for investors and property developers, creating an even greater return on investment.
"The event gives us an ideal opportunity to fulfil our Belfast Agenda goals - giving us a significantly visible presence to 'sell' the city.
"Attending MIPIM allows us to showcase Belfast alongside other UK cities on an international stage and promote investment and regeneration opportunities to the international investment and development communities."
Last month, more than 80 representatives from the private and public sectors in Northern Ireland attended this year's event in Cannes.
The total budget for this year was £329,825, 80% of which came from the private sector, with the council covering the rest.
Sinn Fein was the only party to reject the request for additional funding.
The party's Ciaran Beattie, who was among those to oppose the proposal, said: "All councillors and council officials have a responsibility to allocate council funds wisely, and the additional £20,000 sought by the council simply can't be justified.
"The party has voted against this proposal. We are disappointed that it was voted through by other parties."
But Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Dudgeon insisted it was "money well-spent". "It's an important event which brings results to the city," he said.
"While the Belfast stand was impressive and the speakers were great, we are competing against hundreds of other cities. We have to make an impression."
Jackie Henry, who played a major role in driving private sector involvement in MIPIM, said: "The private sector believes MIPIM is one of the most effective initiatives to allow them to compete internationally and win valuable investment for Northern Ireland. That helps create a stronger economy, which in turn creates a better society.
"We cannot overestimate the need to showcase Belfast internationally, to change perceptions about the city and to attract investment."
Brian Lavery, managing director of property consultants CBRE, added: "Attendance at MIPIM, the international real estate conference, is essential for Belfast to allow it to compete with other major regional cities in the UK.
"We fully support Belfast City Council in the leadership they have shown in developing this platform, which allows the city to compete on a global stage."