Sinn Fein claims new regeneration plan for Belfast could lead to 'Balkanisation' of city centre
Sinn Fein has threatened to withdraw support for an ambitious new plan for Belfast city centre, saying it will "Balkanise" the area.
In June noted city planner Joe Berridge gave a presentation at the Waterfront Hall - Belfast: Future City - suggesting how it could be transformed.
The Canadian's plan was endorsed by First Minister Peter Robinson as "a bold vision" for Belfast. Now it has degenerated into a row at Belfast City Council.
Former Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir threatened to withdraw support for it unless a West Centre zone was added, but DUP councillor Gavin Robinson pointed out that every area he had mentioned was already included in the proposals.
The Berridge Plan includes four zones of focus for the regeneration work – Lagan Corridor, North Centre, South Centre and Core.
A meeting of Belfast super council's transformation committee in August approved the addition of a West Centre zone. But it was voted down at a meeting of the full super council.
The DUP's Brian Kingston proposed the veto, saying the Future Belfast plan had already been endorsed, was due to go out for consultation this month.
"The city centre must be viewed as entirely a shared space for all the residents and visitors to our city," he told the council.
But Mr O Muilleoir said: "There is actually proposals for the centre north and centre south, so rather than looking at a Balkanised city core, we are coming forward with proposals that are more inclusive by including centre west."
He added: "The tragedy of development plans for the last 30 years is that they have not rolled back the levels of unemployment and poverty in working class areas of this city."
Mr O Muilleoir accused unionists of opposing the inclusion of a nationalist area, adding: "Those type of politics for me – and I would never ascribe this to councillor Kingston – are the politics of Quasimodo, that you immediately see something and jump up and stop it because you see it as benefiting another section of this city. My proposal is for a way forward which includes everyone."
Mr Robinson branded Mr O Muilleoir's comments "appalling" and "pathetic".
"All of the parts mentioned by councillor O Muilleoir are in the centre core but the discussion needs to be raised about the base level of commentary, because that base level of commentary if it was allowed to exist within the council would mean you would be precluded from raising any issues about aspiration for our city centre or directing investment for fear that someone might throw a slur in your direction or telling you that you can't say that because it reminds of what someone said in this building 40 years ago.
"It's pathetic. We need to raise it up."
The PUP's Billy Hutchinson warned against stirring up tensions, adding he did not disagree with Mr O Muilleoir, but the plan was not yet complete.
The SDLP's Tim Attwood said: "Let's be positive about what Berridge achieved and put away small-minded politics."
Alliance's Nuala McAllister said her party will be supporting the amendment not to delay the report by a month.
The council voted to carry the amendment by 28 votes to 25.
Mr Robinson added "councillors need to set aside parochial interests and look towards the city centre strategically as a whole," pointing out that while the areas Mr O Muilleoir referred to were included in the plan already, some areas in east Belfast were not.
Yesterday Sinn Fein group leader Jim McVeigh clarified that his party had not withdrawn support for the Future Belfast plans.
"We are trying to do a bit of work behind the scenes to fill the gap we see in the document, particularly around the Castle Street/ Divis Street/ North Street/ Lower Shankill part of it. We think there is a gap there in terms of the necessary investment in that part of the city," he said.
The term Balkanisation refers to one of the most divided regions in Europe. The Balkan states are located in the south east of Europe, and include Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Bulgaria. They were part of the Ottoman Empire prior to the First World War, and have been synomous with sectarian tensions between Eastern Orthodox, Catholicism and Islam for centuries. During the Second World War, most sided with Nazi Germany before retreating behind the Iron Curtain for the Cold War. There was further violence in the early 1990s when the former Yugoslavia broke up. Tensions continue today.