Belfast council has vowed to work on a “tactical regeneration” plan for the rundown Shaftesbury Square area in the city centre.
The area used to be the crowning glory of Belfast’s so-called “golden mile” – which stretched from Lisburn Road along the full length of Great Victoria Street – but in recent decades has seen steady decline and is noted for its empty premises and dilapidated facades.
This week during a meeting of the City Growth and Regeneration Committee at Belfast City Council, elected representatives agreed a proposal from council officers to create a plan for the area to be shared with the relevant Stormont departments, businesses and other stakeholders. The “tactical regeneration” scheme will also look at enhancement of the Castle Street area.
It involves quick short term and low cost actions such as transforming dingy former shopfronts, opening up public realm space by taking away street clutter such as bollards, opening up fenced off areas, introducing artworks, parklets and greening.
A committee report states: “Whilst certain businesses have sustained a presence in the area and continue to make a positive contribution in terms of well-maintained active frontages, there are a number of vacancies and the wider area is in need of significant intervention.
“It should be noted that there are several development proposals progressing through the planning process in the wider area, and major public sector placemaking and infrastructure projects like Belfast Streets Ahead 5 and BRT 2 also have the potential to have a transformative impact.
“However, the timescales associated with emerging or committed public and private projects in this area are lengthy, and in some cases uncertain, and there is a growing consensus among local stakeholders that there is a need for shorter term action.”
It adds: “Officers are proposing that a tactical regeneration scheme is worked up for part of this area initially. Whilst the detail needs to be developed, it could include a combination of minor works to building frontages, while also taking advantage of generous footway widths along Great Victoria Street through measures such as removal of street clutter and introduction of soft landscaping and greening opportunities, where possible.
“It is proposed that a scheme be developed that focuses on Great Victoria Street, east and west sides, from Bruce St to Donegall Rd, as a priority given the condition of this area.”
The council says that the Stormont Department for Communities has indicated that funding may be available in the 2022/23 financial period, if projects can be developed up to a “business case” status.
Further funding may come from the South West Quarter Stakeholders Group, a group comprising a mix of private sector business council officers, Translink, NIHE and two Stormont departments.
DUP Botanic Councillor Tracy Kelly said: “If you look at Great Victoria Street and the mouth of the city centre, it’s absolutely horrendous. It needs a massive piece of work and investment. So I am so glad to see some thought going into it.
“There are a few shops going on to the Donegall Road, just off Shaftesbury Square that recently got funding from the council to give them a bit of a life with shop front work and a bit of paint, and that has made a massive difference already.”
She added: “When you think of the golden mile, and what it used to be – it is quite frightening now at night time around there.”
Green Councillor Mal O’Hara said: “Parts of the inner fringe around the city core have been ruined by the car dependency of this city and the need to ensure we have traffic flow. Sandy Row, a once vibrant and bustling shopping district, has been ruined to become a cut-through for traffic flow.” He asked for space to be taken away from private cars as part of the regeneration projects.
In 2019, a £208 million Belfast Transport Hub was approved by the council, involving the creation of a new bus and train centre on the other side of Durham Street to the current Great Victoria Street bus and train stations Those stations will be replaced with a mall.
The wider Weaver’s Cross plan involves the regeneration of land to the immediate south of the current train and bus centre, land currently used as parking space on either side of Hope Street and Bruce Street, cutting through Great Victoria Street. A public space is planned beside the new transport hub called “Saltwater Square.”