Major facelift in store for city's former 'Golden Mile'

Suzanne McGonagle

BELFAST'S 'Golden Mile' may get a new lease of life under plans to see the thoroughfare receive a major facelift.

In its heyday, it was a bustling focus for Belfast nightlife with diners and party-goers thronging an array of bars and restaurants.

But recent years have seen much of the area around Shaftesbury Square slip into decline as the end of the troubles saw the entertainment area moved back towards the city centre.

The Department of Social Development (DSD) now hopes to revamp the area to create a "major city hub, giving an experience of urban life, comparable to the best in similar European cities".

One of the main aims of the proposed transformation of Shaftes-bury Square is for traffic to "no longer dominate" the busy part of south Belfast.

As a traffic bottleneck, DSD has found that the area has slowly "degenerated from a lively, multi-functional hub to domination by a complex set of road junctions".

However, it is hoped the new-look square will become "an enjoyable experience to live, work, do business and relax".

Newly-appointed minister Mervyn Storey has announced a consultation on the plans for how to use the area over the next decade.

One of the main proposals would see a reduction in vehicles in Shaftesbury Square, with the DSD criticising the current situation which sees "accommodation of traffic as not just the primary but the dominant consideration".

"The creation of Shaftesbury Square as a vibrant place, where traffic is sensitively managed and no longer dominates, and with more space for pedestrians, enhanced provision for bus and taxi passengers and an improved link to Botanic Station," it states.

If the plans area given the go-ahead, the area will become "a major civic space, surrounded by handsome and substantial buildings accommodating a rich mix of uses, with activity extending throughout day and into the evening, including specialist retailing and hospitality especially at ground level, with business and residential uses at upper levels".

It is also hoped that a re-vitalised Shaftesbury Square will become "a catalyst for the economic, social and physical improvement of the adjoining arterial routes and streets".

Dedicated cycle routes will be created as well as bus lanes going north and south through the square.

The proposals also suggest that the area could become a part of the proposed second phase of Belfast Rapid Transport, which would be extended to south Belfast via Shaftesbury Square.

Mr Storey said he wants "people from the local community and wider public to have their say on this vision".

"Shaftesbury Square is a vital node of economic and social activity within south Belfast," he said.

"Over the last number of years the area, like many others, has suffered the effects of the economic downturn.

"In partnership with the South Belfast Partnership Board, my department commissioned the draft framework to establish an integrated plan designed to steer regeneration across this area and surrounding communities.

"This plan has been designed with people at its heart, with the emphasis on Shaftesbury Square as a place to spend time - not just 'pass through'.

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Meanwhile, work is to begin on the second phase of the £40 million Connswater Community Greenway project in east Belfast.

As part of the project, a "C.S. Lewis themed" square will be built at Holywood Arches and 13kms of walking and cycling paths will be constructed.


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