Council wants 'city deal' to take control of improving Belfast infrastructure

Belfast City Council wants greater powers over city

BELFAST authorities want more powers to take control of transforming the city.

The City Council has made a pitch to government for a so-called city deal similar to those struck by Manchester and Glasgow.

Councillors want to take over a variety of responsibilities that currently rest with other government or Stormont departments.

The plan could see Belfast earn back tax revenue generated by added economic growth.

Among the council's wish list is to take a lead on major regeneration projects and improving the transport infrastructure such as building rail links between the city and the north's two main airports.

Councillors are working with think-tank ResPublica, which has helped formulate the proposals and will now steer the political lobbying efforts. The strategic consultancy played a key role in Greater Manchester's city deal.

ResPublica director Phillip Blond made the case for a tailored Belfast deal at a two-hour event in the Palace of Westminster.

Among those attending were all four of Belfast's MPs, Secretary of State James Brokenshire, senior Labour party figures Andy Burnham and Baroness Angela Smith and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.

Mr Blond said Belfast was failing to fulfil its potential because it was unable to make key decisions about its future.

"This is transformative," he said. "Unless Belfast gets the powers that it needs then it will fall further and further behind."

He said responsibility for the functions Belfast was seeking was currently fragmented across different levels of government.

"Some of these powers exist in Whitehall, some in Stormont and they are never brought to bear because they are too defuse," he said.

"So things are never enacted, that's why Belfast's got some of the worst infrastructure in the country."

Under the terms of Greater Manchester's city deal the local authorities can retain a proportion of the enhanced business tax take brought in as a result of boosted productivity.

Any tax retained by Belfast would be reinvested into the city, thus creating an incentive to grow the private sector, Belfast Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie explained.

"By providing focused capital to enable councils to borrow more, or enabling greater retention of taxes, councils would be incentivised to create growth and reinvest the proceeds of it," she said.

As well as citing the example of Greater Manchester, Ms Wylie also pointed to the Glasgow and Clyde Valley growth deal, which saw the UK and Scottish governments each pledge £500 million for infrastructure projects over 20 years, with the Glaswegian authorities contributing £130m of borrowed finance.

Ms Wylie said Belfast was not currently fulfilling its potential and, as a consequence, was "lagging behind" other cities in the UK and elsewhere.

"Its economy is less diverse, less innovative, and has fewer new business start-ups than almost all its competitors," she said.

The chief executive added: "Belfast urgently needs to improve its competitiveness. To do this, we must create inclusive growth, increasing productivity while reforming public services to provide more opportunities for all."

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