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Council highlights positive developments underway in Belfast city centre

Date: 08 Jul 2024

Category: City centre

Aerial view of Belfast city centre

Belfast City Council is continuing to work to ensure the city centre is clean, green, safe, vibrant, connected, and welcoming.

At July’s council meeting, elected members were updated on progress on several core initiatives to improve safety and enhance vibrancy.

They included:

  • An update on Tribeca and the possibility of acquiring/vesting the site, following previous agreement by elected members.

    Councillors heard that, while council does not own the site and is not the regeneration authority for the city, it is committed to enabling development along North Street. This includes meeting government departments with the relevant regeneration powers and responsibilities, with a view to achieving progress on the scheme.

    Council staff have also begun a phased process to address potential options around the Assembly Rooms. While this building is also not in council ownership, it occupies a key site for the city centre at the junction of Waring and North Street and the council is keen to ensure the future civic use of this important heritage asset.
  • The appointment of world-renowned architects Ralph Appelbaum Associates to design the visitor attraction element of the landmark £100 million Belfast Stories project. Due to open in 2029 on Royal Avenue, as part of the Belfast Region City Deal programme, it includes the historic former Bank of Ireland building.   

    Part of this site has already been temporarily transformed into The BUG – Belfast’s Urban Garden – with polytunnels, raised planters and vegetable beds, using Green and Blue Infrastructure funding from the Department for Infrastructure.
  • The extension of the Vacant to Vibrant scheme to address empty units, along with the continuation of a ‘matchmaker’ service - designed to pair vacant properties with prospective new users - for a further two years.

    Funding for a further six organisations was also agreed. The scheme has already helped bring 20 city centre properties back into use - supporting 80 direct employment opportunities and returning £3.87 in rates income for every £1 invested by council.

    Councillors have also agreed to look at how best to open up potential residential space above ground floor shop units, alongside continuing work to develop four key city centre sites for housing use in lands around the inner north-west portion, close to Kent Street and Smithfield, with the process to appoint a housing association now nearing completion.  
  • The recruitment of two additional Safer Neighbourhood Officers until 31 March 2025. This team works to support the PSNI and city centre outreach teams in addressing anti-social behaviour and supporting vulnerable people, as well as providing high visibility foot patrols and challenging low-level anti-social behaviour.
  • A continued focus on cleanliness, with a daily and night-time cleansing operation, including street cleaning, emptying litter bins and power washing pavements.

    A street planting programme is also underway, with colourful planters added to key arterial routes, as well as at visitor attractions like City Hall, 2 Royal Avenue and St George’s Market, alongside the extension of the successful Belfast Canvas project, using street art to brighten up utility boxes.
  • Addition of new retail brands, including Dylan Oaks on Castle Lane and Deichmann at ‘The Keep’ (former BHS building). TK Maxx will soon relocate to CastleCourt and The Ivy Restaurant will open at Cleaver House, Donegall Place by the end of 2024.

    Year-on-year footfall in Belfast has increased by 3.7% and it was the best performing city in the UK for footfall in June 2024, according to data from the NI Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ. 

    Hotel occupancy rates for January to April 2024 were also up by almost 11% for the same period in 2019 and 142 cruise ships are due to dock in the city between April and October 2024, bringing in an estimated 277,472 visitors and a projected spend of £20million for the local economy.

    Expressions of interest have also been invited for six new retail or food beverage trading pitches at Writers’ Square, together with the Department for Communities.
  • Belfast 2024, the city’s biggest ever citywide celebration of creativity, continues. Next up is Water Works, focusing on the River Lagan with family entertainment, boat launches and live music, on Saturday 3 August.

    Other city centre summer events to receive funding from the council include:
    • a family-friendly activity programme at 2 Royal Avenue;
    • Orangefest on 12 July;
    • Belfast Pride from 19-28 July;
    • sixth annual Belfast TradFest, with world-class traditional music concerts, pub-based live music sessions and a summer school of traditional music, from 21-28 July
    • Late Night Art on the first Thursday of every month.

The Sailortown Festival also takes place from 26-28 July, while Belfast One’s summer cinema will be at City Hall on 10-11 August.

  • The appointment of Michael Stewart as Belfast’s first ‘Night Tsar’ by the three Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and the successful Purple Flag accreditation awarded to Belfast by the Association of Town and City Management for the city’s commitment to a “well-run, safe and thriving night-time economy”.
  • The granting of planning approval to Belfast Harbour to turn a surface level car park into a new Grade A office building at City Quays, with spaces for retail, hospitality and community uses.   

    A new public space will also open later this summer - City Quays Gardens – along with a new kiosk on Queen’s Quay along the city’s Maritime Mile.
  • Using almost £1.3 million secured through developer contributions to deliver public realm improvement works and address road safety issues in communities around Ulster University.

    Work is also continuing to develop Cathedral Gardens into a new green park, complete with events space, an urban forest and a permanent memorial to the Belfast Blitz.

Councillor Michael Long, Chair of the council’s All party Working Group on the City Centre, welcomed the progress.
“The challenges of recent years, including the impact of Covid-19, changing work habits, the fire at Bank Buildings and economic pressures, have all changed how we use and view our city centre, but there is an enormous amount of proactive work underway to unlock growth and support revitalisation,” he said.

“Since 2015, we’ve seen a positive trajectory of development and regeneration activity, but we recognise there is still much work to be done.

“Ensuring our city centre is the best it can be takes collective effort from a wide range of organisations, but we are committed to working with the NI Assembly, relevant Stormont departments, traders and their representatives, the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and all our statutory partners to build a space that is strong, safe, welcoming and attractive for everyone.”

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