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The Belfast Agenda: Statement of Progress 2017-2019 Summary

Published in November 2019


Foreword from Belfast's community planning partners

The Belfast Agenda, the city’s first community plan, is for us all. It’s our commitment to work side by side for the good of everyone in Belfast. The Belfast Agenda, the city’s first community plan, was published in November 2017 and was led by Belfast City Council in partnership with its community planning partner organisations.

The Belfast Agenda identifies the work that we all need to focus on if we are to unleash the energy and ability that exists in our people and communities. It is a long-term framework outlining how the council and its community planning partners will work collaboratively to deliver an ambitious and inclusive vision that will create a better quality of life for all citizens in Belfast.

We are ambitious and inclusive. We have come together to set stretching goals that will create a better quality of life for all. We want to make sure that the success of the city reaches everyone who lives here.

Since the publication of the Belfast Agenda, the formation of the Community Planning Partnership has been pivotal in strengthening existing and forging new collaborative relationships. The partnership has created a sense of challenge and opportunity, for both individual organisations and as a partnership. It’s a ‘call to action’ to city partners and stakeholders to give collective focus and leadership, and be innovative in co-designing and implementing solutions to key city challenges which exist. Although still in its infancy, we have already adopted new approaches and practices that over the coming months and years will deliver improved outcomes and create a city that is a great place to live, work, visit or set up and grow a business.

This Statement of Progress summary outlines the first stage of our journey as a partnership to delivering the ambitions and priorities set out within the Belfast Agenda and the future direction of travel we are collectively committed to.

Suzanne Wylie
Chair of Community Planning Partnership

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Vision for 2035

The Belfast Agenda and the community planning process is a significant catalyst for the city, bringing partner organisations, regional government departments and agencies, the council and local communities together to work collaboratively to deliver our shared vision. It’s about creating real and sustainable improvements in the wellbeing and quality of life for people in our city.

Our vision for Belfast in 2035 is:

Belfast will be a city re-imagined. A great place to live for everyone. It will energise and drive a successful
economy where everyone can reach their potential. Beautiful, well-connected and culturally vibrant, it will be a city shared and loved by its people and admired around the world. It will be a producer of and magnet for talent, investment, innovation and creativity – a compassionate place where people create value and are valued.

Focusing on outcomes

Residents and city partners identified five key outcomes they want to achieve working together.

Belfast will be a city:

  • where everyone benefits from a thriving and prosperous economy
  • where everyone fulfils their potential
  • that is a welcoming, safe, fair and inclusive place for all
  • where everyone experiences good health and wellbeing
  • that is vibrant, attractive, connected and environmentally sustainable

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Our ambitions

Through the Belfast Agenda we want to deliver the following bold ambitions:

  • Our economy supports 46,000 additional jobs
  • Our city is home to an additional 66,000 people
  • There will be a 33 per cent reduction in the life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived neighbourhoods
  • Every young person leaving school has a destination that fulfils their potential

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Delivering together

Since publishing the Belfast Agenda, together we have seen success in a number of areas.

Growing the economy

Creating jobs and investment

  • Created 5,855 jobs
  • Attracted over £730 million of private sector investment
  • Created 1,315 new business start-ups
  • Increased the value of out-of-state tourism to £335million annually
  • Welcomed an additional 330,000 annual visitors to the city
  • Secured a £850m Belfast Region City Deal for investment in important city infrastructure, new tourism regeneration assets and creating up to 20,000 new jobs

City development

Creating a competitive and sustainable city

  • 2.52 per cent growth in the city’s rates base
  • Completed 830,000 sq ft in new Grade A office space to accommodate additional jobs within the city
  • Created 3,002 additional hotel bed spaces within the city to attract and accommodate additional tourism
  • Increased the use of sustainable transport by 6 per cent (from 35 per cent to 41 per cent of all journeys)
  • Implemented £90 million investment in a Glider service to enhance connectedness across the city
  • Reduced the proportion of waste going to landfill from 42 per cent to 36 per cent

Living here

Making life better for all our residents

  • Invested £775 million in neighbourhoods across the city
  • Invested £62.4million in four new world-class leisure facilities across the city
  • Built 854 new social homes across the city
  • Delivered £1.2million of social innovation programmes and initiatives
  • Invested £19.4million in health improvement initiatives
  • Invested £4.2million in prevention of suicide and self-harm
  • 91 per cent of residents feel safe within their neighbourhoods, as reported in Belfast Residents' Survey
  • Removed a physical interface barrier and created a shared open space and multi-use games area

Working and learning

Connecting people to opportunities

  • Supported 9,300 residents through employment and skills programmes with 3,300 residents progressing into employment
  • Launched a citywide GCSE revision programme, providing support to 365 young people per academic year
  • Belfast became member of UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities
  • Supported widening participation in further and higher education institutions
  • Worked across partners to implement a ‘City Youth Pledge’
  • Implemented a Citywide Youth Support Programme to support those at risk of disengaging from education or unemployment

Adding value

At this early stage of development, community planning and the Belfast Agenda has helped enhance how city partners work together, challenging organisational silos and developing new collaborative solutions to local priorities. With a focus on addressing some of the acute issues facing people in our city, there are already some exemplars of movement and success. This section provides an overview of the added value being created through community planning.

Improving health

The Community Planning Partnership is determined to work in collaboration to create a healthier city. Since coming together in February 2018 we have examined the evidence base and identified a series of initial priority areas for focus on where we can, and will, collaborate to make a difference. Because of this work, we have committed to or initiated the following:

Drugs, alcohol, mental health and suicide prevention

Public Health Agency has been leading work with partners including Belfast City Council, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, PSNI and others, to address a range of short, medium and long term actions to address challenges in how public services can better respond collaboratively to meet the needs of those experiencing challenges related to drugs, alcohol and mental health.

This has led to:

  • bringing together key partners and stakeholders, including statutory agencies, service providers and service users, to get a fuller understanding of the circumstances
  • targeting actions to address the needs of injecting drug users (IDUs) with a particular focus on improving communication and co-ordination.
  • Belfast Suicide Community Response Plan - this has been updated to ensure that across the city in the aftermath of a suspected death by suicide a co-ordinated response is in place to promote mental health and suicide prevention; reduce fear and tension and provide timely support to individuals, families and communities.
  • Reviewing structures and processes for supporting mental health and suicide prevention across Belfast, with a view to rationalising the number of groups current meeting across the city. It has been agreed that the Belfast Protect Life Implementation Group will oversee and facilitate this work.
  • In the longer term, partners are committed to establish a city-wide commissioning group to create a more joined up approach in how services for drugs, alcohol and mental health are commissioned, improving outcomes for citizens and communities.

Addressing avoidable winter deaths

Led by the Health and Social Care Board (with support from a wide range of partners including Public Health Agency, Belfast City Council, National Energy Action and others), a programme of research, engagement and action planning is currently underway to reduce the number of excess winter deaths in Belfast due to cold weather by improving support for those most at risk for example those living in cold homes, elderly and those with chronic respiratory conditions). Work undertaken to date includes activity that will lead to better practice and immediate changes in intervention and funding.

This includes:

  • A campaign was launched in 2018-2019 to raise awareness and increase uptake of flu vaccinations among at risk groups.
  • Establishing a cross partner working group to facilitate joint planning and co-production of interventions – we looked at the data, researched best practice, and worked with stakeholders to determine what changes would have an impact.
  • Developing an assessment process to identify those who may be at risk.
  • Established a single referral point for those at risk to access potential support.

Healthier Belfast Forum

Looking to the future, partners commenced work in 2019 to develop a new strategic approach to addressing health inequalities within the city. The Community Planning Partnership has recently agreed to establish a 'Healthier Belfast Forum’ which will produce and drive forward a new Health Inequalities Strategy for Belfast.

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A key focus has been to work collaboratively to address the housing needs for a growing population. Covering the full range of housing tenures, including affordable and social housing, community planning has brought partners together to explore and unpack the challenges constraining housing development.

It has created a shared call to action across partners to collaboratively provide access to housing and support the city’s population growth ambitions.

Work undertaken to unlock housing development across the city includes:

  • a series of action-planning workshops with partners, including Belfast City Council, Housing Executive, Department for Communities and other stakeholders looking at how to improve housing supply in Belfast
  • a City Centre Regeneration Task Force was established to address housing issues and promote housing supply in the city centre. This has resulted in the Housing Executive developing a city centre waiting list for social housing, which will be in place by March 2020 to attract households from across all parts of Belfast into the city centre
  • completion of strategic site assessments and land availability analyses to identify potential for housing development across the city (including the city centre)
  • publication of a draft Plan Strategy as part of the Local Development Plan which includes proposals to encourage affordable housing in new housing developments
  • significant progress has been achieved in resolving the procurement challenge associated with partnerships between housing associations and developers in delivering social housing

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Improving educational outcomes

Community planning partners have agreed to give early and concerted focus to ‘developing an integrated approach to address educational inequalities’ and work collaboratively to develop specific proposals and interventions which will have a meaningful impact and  improve the life chances of  our young people.

An inter-agency group has been established with these partners:

  • Education Authority
  • Department of Education
  • Belfast Area Partnership Boards
  • Queen’s University
  • Ulster University
  • Council for Catholic Maintained Schools
  • St Mary’s University College
  • Stranmillis University College
  • Urban Villages
  • Belfast City Council
  • Belfast Met

The partners have been using an evidence based approach to identify best practice that can be used to improve educational outcomes. This work has led to the community planning partners supporting and developing the following:

GCSE Support Programme

Over the next four years, partners have committed to supporting 1,500 children from across the city to improve their achievement in maths and English at GCSE. This programme builds on an initiative that has operated successfully in West Belfast since 1998.

Easter School Programme

The West Belfast Partnership Board has delivered the Easter School Programme over the last 20 years in partnership with, St Mary’s University College, Full Service Community Network, Department of Education and local post primary schools.

This innovative learning initiative provides tailored support for young people sitting Maths and English GCSEs in the summer term, with the aim of helping children with a predicted low grade.Every year over 200 local students from twelve post primary schools attend the annual four-day revision course during their Easter holidays, with over 3,000 students participating since 1998.

The Easter school was a great experience; I would recommend it to anyone struggling with Maths. It helped a lot and has given me the confidence to get a pass in my GCSE exam.

Year 12 student

Many past participants have raised their grades significantly and in some cases young people have achieved A Star grades.

In 2019, for example, 86 per cent of those attending English classes and 65 per cent of those attending Maths achieved a grade C or higher. Sixty six per cent of participating students were entitled to free school meals, which is an indication that the programme is supporting those in most need.

The additional support is a valuable resource which allows pupils to question their understanding of Maths and English GCSE topics and receive targeted help. The GCSE Support Programme is very valuable.

School principal

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Supporting local people into employment

Since 2017, over 9,300 Belfast residents have been supported with over 3,300 progressing into employment.

Across community planning partners a range of tailored interventions are taking place to better connect local residents to economic opportunity, removing barriers to participation and support skill development. Interventions range from mainstream employability and skills programmes through to bespoke sectoral interventions including ‘Employment Academies’.

We’re working with employers across Belfast to deliver a range of specialist training to help people get a job or become their own boss. Employment Academies are aimed at people who do not have the experience or qualifications normally required in the specific sector; as academies will provide the relevant training, licences, qualifications needed. Everyone who successfully completes the academy is guaranteed an interview with at least one employer who is currently recruiting.

"The academy is way beyond what I expected. I never thought I would get a job in social care. I had very low self-esteem and no direction in my life. Working with my mentor I aim to upskill in my workplace and work towards other goals in my personal and professional life. I aim to complete my Level 2 Social Care once I am out of probation. I would like to aim for Level 3 and 5, but I also have the passion to return to studying to complete a degree in nursing in the future. For once, in a very long time, my life seems to have a purpose and I am setting out short, medium and long-term goals. I feel excited about my future where once it looked very hopeless. This is down to the academy and I will always be grateful for the opportunity."

Participant from Social Care Academy

Employability and skills pathway

As well as supporting people to access employment, we are working with partners to improve the overall skills and training provision in Belfast. We are developing an Employability and Skills pathway to make it easier for citizens of Belfast to enter, sustain and progress in employment.

The pathway will have the added benefit of helping employers gain access to a talent pool with the appropriate skills, attitudes and competencies to meet their needs. In addition to this, Community Planning partners have committed to using their own recruitment plans to provide opportunities inked to the emerging pathway. Our aim is to create a coherent pathway that meets the ambitions of participants and employers.

Supporting our people

Children and young people

Ensuring our children and young people have the best start in life is a key priority and focus of the Belfast Agenda and work of the Community Planning Partnership.

Through a range of engagements, including with the Belfast Youth Forum (comprising 40 young people from communities across the city), children and young people helped shape the Belfast Agenda’s priorities and gave focus to the work of the partnership. As a result, a programme of work has been taken forward over the last two years to enhance children and young people’s experience of Belfast including, for example:

  • Over 1,000 children and young people participated in cross community projects (under Peace IV) delivered through statutory partners, schools, community groups, youth groups and sports clubs.
  • The Play Shaper programme was delivered by Playboard NI to raise awareness among community planning partners and seek to influence how public spaces are designed to promote opportunities for play. A significant programme of activities and events in our parks, summer schemes, community centres and city events and festivals.
  • Provision of thousands of play opportunities through a citywide play team.
  • Partners are also joint planning to support children and young people, and their families, through the existing Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership structures, including the Belfast and South Eastern area outcomes groups, locality planning groups and family support hubs.

City youth pledge

Through community planning we are working in partnership with young people to take forward a city youth pledge. 

In parallel, we are delivering a new Citywide Youth Support Programme specifically geared towards engaging young people at greatest risk of disengaging from education or those who are currently unemployed. Through this, we are supporting participants into sustainable pathways to employment, education or training.

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Creating an age-friendly city

“An age-friendly city is one in which organisations work together to make sure the quality of life for people is enhanced as they age”.

We are acutely aware of the challenges which may face many people and families within the city as they age including housing conditions, social isolation and poverty.

Since publishing the Belfast Agenda, and as a member of the World Health Organisation’s global network of Age Friendly Cities, Belfast’s Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership has continued to engage and consult with older people in Belfast and published an updated Age Friendly Belfast plan 2018-2021. The partnership has been delivering a range of actions to address priorities including, for example:

  • addressing loneliness and social isolation through public campaigns, training and development for key services promoting the role of older people through Positive Ageing Month and recognising older volunteers through an annual awards programme
  • hosting series of local and citywide age-friendly tea dances, slipped discos and Be Prepared events
  • supporting the establishment of four dementia friendly neighbourhoods (three more since 2017)There are 4,041 dementia friends and 33 dementia champions in Belfast
  • addressing mental health issues through promotion of the Take 5 steps to wellbeing through sessions in six local older people’s forums and supporting Greater Belfast Seniors Forum and Libraries NI to host an older people’s mental health event in City Hall in May 2019 and a suicide-awareness workshop in June 2019.

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Creating jobs and opportunity

Belfast Region City Deal

A key commitment within the Belfast Agenda was to secure a Belfast Region City Deal significant enough to support the delivery of the ambitions set out for the city.

The Belfast Region City Deal partners (including Queen’s University, Ulster University, regional further educational colleges, Belfast City Council, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim, Newry, Mourne and Down Belfast City Council) has worked together to secure a transformational £850 million City Deal, providing a huge opportunity to drive economic growth in an inclusive way across the city region.

The investment will help further develop the city’s innovation and digital offering and support those sectors where we have the potential to become world class including:

  • life and health sciences
  • ICT, digital and creative industries
  • advanced manufacturing

There’ll also be further investment in tourism-led regeneration including an iconic new visitor destination hub, so that we can encourage more visitors to stay longer within the city; supported by investment in infrastructure including the next phase of Belfast Rapid Transit and delivery of a focused employability and skills programme to connect people to jobs and services. The City Region Deal will:

  • create up to 20,000 new and better jobs
  • deliver a planned programme of employability and skills development
  • improve quality of life and make the region more attractive to visitors, students, new residents and investors

Inclusive growth

We are committed to ensuring that the success of the city reaches everyone. To drive inclusive growth, we have published a draft Inclusive Growth Strategy. This strategy sets out what Belfast City Council is going to do as an organisation and what we are doing in collaboration with others, to create a truly inclusive city. 

We are committed to a wide range of actions including: 

  • supporting our social ambitions through our approach to purchasing goods and services and helping keep our spend within Belfast
  • promoting fair work and good quality jobs
  • creating more apprenticeships
  • working towards becoming a Living Wage City
  • developing an Inclusive Growth City Charter for Belfast to encourage organisations to adopt business practices that promote more inclusive growth

Supporting enterprise and investment

Attracting investment and supporting business start-up and growth and ultimately job creation within the city has been a key focus of our activity over the past two years.

City partners have worked together to develop a new Enterprise Framework for the city and have  supported the delivery of a range on business support programmes. In 2018, 740 individuals were supported to start up a business leading to creation of 691 jobs in the city.

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Climate and sustainability

Belfast faces major challenges related to climate change and sustainability. These environmental challenges will have a profound impact on economic and social objectives unless they are addressed with urgency and in a collaborative manner.

Changes to the environment are amongst the biggest threats we face. We must become a sustainable city that meets the needs of the present without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

From the way we heat our houses, how we use water or how we choose to travel have significant long term impacts on our local environment and quality of life.

Working towards becoming a climate resilient and sustainable city is a key priority for city partners who are working together to develop a focused action plan to address many of the challenges which exist. Its key focus includes, for example:

  • creating a city energy transition plan
  • addressing climate adoption and mitigation
  • ensuring critical city infrastructure is in place to support future growth (for example water, infrastructure)

Belfast Rapid Transit

The introduction of the Glider is good news for Belfast – it will help us as we work to achieve the aims of our Belfast Agenda the long-term development plan for the city.

The Glider service, a hugely significant development in our city’s transport infrastructure, celebrated its first year of operation in September 2019. It attracted more than two million additional passenger journeys in comparison to previous bus journeys on the same route representing an increase of over 30 per cent.

The Glider is an innovative mode of travel for Belfast, which has enhanced the image of the city, and represented an investment of over £90m. It has delivered a high quality, high capacity, bus-based rapid transit system, creating a more connected city, bringing people and communities together.

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Belfast Bikes scheme

Working with public and private sector partners, a transformational Belfast Bikes scheme has been introduced which has created 46 bike docking stations across the city and access to over 400 public bikes.

The scheme connects the city and provides a sustainable form of transport for citizens, visitors and business users. The scheme provides greater access to places and destinations across the city as well as helping improve the health of users by encouraging people to integrate exercise into their daily transport routine. In its first year of operation, Belfast Bikes supported more than 191,000 journeys had been made across the city and increasing to 211,052 in 2019.

There are currently 17,000 active members registered to the Belfast Bikes scheme.

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Providing community assets and facilities

Leisure Transformation Programme

Since 2015-2016, £62.4 million has been invested in developing modern, state-of-the-art leisure facilities across the city, which will enable active and healthy lifestyles for our citizens whilst also delivering on key priorities such as reducing life inequalities, improving neighbourhoods and creating employment and opportunity.

Within our £105m Leisure Transformation Programme, the largest of its kind across the UK, a total of seven new centres will open their doors over a ten-year period. So far we’ve invested £62.4m in four exciting new facilities, located in the heart of communities across the city – Olympia Leisure Centre opened in 2018, Lisnasharragh and Brook are due to open in December 2019 and Andersonstown will open in April 2020.

Each centre will offer a unique selling point as well as state-of-the-art pools, fitness suites and pitches. Working collaboratively with our service delivery partner, GLL, we will deliver a wider range of programmes that will improve health outcomes for the city by encouraging more people to get more active, more often.

The council awarded its largest ever capital contract to construct Andersonstown, Lisnasharragh and Brook Leisure Centre. This has delivered a number of social benefits for individuals across the city who were economically inactive or long term unemployed.

Key achievements to date include:

  • 13 individual employees recruited
  • 44 apprentices recruited
  • 17 work placements
  • 3,281 employment weeks have been delivered against a target of 2,340

In September 2019, we launched a leisure employment academy that will see up to 70 participants recruited through the council’s employability, training and education programme. Participants will gain industry recognised training, employability and interview support with an experienced industry provider. It is expected that 80 per cent of individuals going through the programme will secure full time, long-term employment.

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Future focus

This section outlines the key city leadership challenges which the community planning partners will focus upon going forward to improve the lives of people living in the city. It also summaries plans that are already confirmed across these priority areas.

Challenge: health inequalities

Future focus: A new city partnership will be created (Healthy Belfast Forum) and a health inequalities strategy and implementation plan will be developed to focus on key issues that underpin the health inequality gap between those living in the most and least deprived neighbourhoods within the city.

Challenge: educational inequalities

Future focus: A citywide educational inequalities strategy will be developed, based on evidence and the roll-out of a ‘what works’ approach. A collaborative drive will target resources at those young people and areas most in need to effectively address the underlying causes of underachievement.

Challenge: employability and skills

Future focus: An integrated employability and skills programme will be developed to enable and support people, particularly hard to reach groups and individuals, to access employment and training opportunities and improve their quality of life.

Challenge: Housing

Future focus: Removing potential barriers and creating the environment for significant population growth within the city and enabling people to access social and affordable housing within both neighbourhoods and the city centre.

Challenge: Sustainability and resilience

Future focus: Creating a city focus and priority to addressing the major challenges, and realising opportunities, related to climate change and sustainability.  Both will have profound impact upon and restrain the city’s ability to deliver its economic and social objectives and ambitions for further growth.

Challenge: Creating a shared, safe and inclusive city

Future focus: Developing a framework to ensure that the objectives and benefits of a shared and safe city underpins everything that we do.  We are also committed to developing an inclusive growth city charter to address issues of economic inequity and inequality within the city.

Challenge: Neighbourhood regeneration

Future focus: A targeted partnership approach will be taken to support neighbourhoods to ‘turn the curve’ in terms of supporting inclusive growth, regeneration and a sense of well-being. Maximising the economic and social benefits of local assets and physical investments across the city.

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Community planning partners

  • Belfast Chamber
  • Belfast City Council
  • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
  • Belfast Met
  • CBI
  • Council for Catholic Maintained Schools
  • EastSide Partnership
  • Education Authority
  • Forward South Partnership
  • Greater Shankill Partnership
  • Health and Social Care Board
  • Invest NI
  • Libraries NI
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service
  • Northern Ireland Housing Executive
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Public Health Agency
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
  • Sport NI
  • Tourism NI
  • Ulster University
  • VisitBelfast
  • West Belfast Partnership

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