Business

Efforts to create more outdoor social space set to ramp up in Belfast city centre

L-R: Chris McCracken of Linen Quarter BID with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Belfast Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl,

EFFORTS to create more outdoor social space in Belfast city centre are being ramped up following the opening of the first street ‘parklet'.

Three former parking spaces on Linenhall Street have been transformed into a boardwalk with sitting and work space for around 15 people. Cycle storage is also included.

It's part of a broader £600,000 project by the Linen Quarter business improvement district (BID) that will create new boardwalks on Bedford Street, Brunswick Street and a second area on Linenhall Street, close to Belfast City Hall.

Children's play equipment will also be installed on Adelaide Street.

Linen Quarter BID's managing director Chris McCracken said the project is part of the efforts to reimagine the city centre.

“This is the first in the city centre and it has taken a while to put together. Now it's here, we are going to see more of these rolled out quicker,” he said.

“I think one of the thing Covid has taught us is that people want to spend more time outdoors, people want to socialise with work colleagues and they want a city built more around people rather than cars.

“For 50 years we've built lots of roads for cars, now we need to unpick that and build places for people.”

A successful pedestrianisation project has already taken place in Belfast's Union Street.

But other schemes have been slower in coming to fruition.

The new parklet on Linenhall Street required the combined input of Belfast City Council, the Department for Communities and the Department for Infrastructure, along with businesses.

Chris McCracken said government and the business community were now broadly aligned behind similar projects.

“We are working through a change of culture and it has taken a little while for everyone to be lined up and all the legislation to be worked through,” he said.

“Now we're at this stage, I think it's going to be easier.

“I just think we need to be ambitious. Instead of taking over a few car park spaces, in the future we might take over the whole roadway and remodel that for people. That's the future for the city.”

The new parklet was officially unveiled by Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and Belfast Lord Mayor, Kate Nicholl.

Nichola Mallon said the pandemic has accelerated the need to reimagine and reshape public spaces around people.

“I want change to happen as quickly as possible. But when you're bringing a number of partners together and you're in the middle of a pandemic, you have to work with each other to make things happen.

“I believe when you see how successful this will be and when people see how they're going to benefit from it, then we will see a rapid increase in the number of other areas that are looking to do exactly the same.”

The minister added: “I have an ambition to significantly increase opportunities for active and sustainable travel, to give everyone the freedom and confidence to be able to walk, wheel or cycle in our city safely so I am pleased that the parklet provides new bike racks as this will support more people to cycle into the city for work or leisure.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Kate Nicholl, said: “It's more important than ever that we think about how we use our outdoor spaces; this parklet is a great example of how an area can be reimagined and the aesthetic changed to create a welcoming, vibrant space in the heart of the city centre for those who work and live here, and for those visiting the city.”

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