Business

Efforts to reimagine Belfast 'painfully slow' - Simon Hamilton

Belfast needs to be empowered to progress innovation and regeneration schemes, the head of the city's chamber of commerce has said. Picture by Mal McCann.

MOVES to reimagine Belfast city centre in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic have been painfully slow due a lack of power devolved to local authorities, the head of the Belfast Chamber has said.

Simon Hamilton claimed the issue is not a lack of ambition for change, but rather the lack of power within the city council to enact the change.

The former DUP economy minister made the comments as Belfast Chamber published a new study that has compared the powers currently held by Belfast City Council with governance structures in cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

He said: “Places like Milan, the European epicentre of the virus, Paris, San Francisco and others have delivered big, bold plans to reimagine and rethink their cities.

“Progress in Belfast has been much slower. Painfully so at times."

While some parts of the city such has Union Street have undergone successful pedestrianisation schemes, efforts elsewhere have been limited in coming to fruition.

“The difference between Belfast and those other cities isn't a lack of ambition or vision. It's a lack of power," said the chamber chief executive.

“Putting that ambition, that vision, into a vehicle that is able to deliver the kind of change our city needs now, and in the years to come, will be crucial in whether we can overcome the challenges that lie ahead.”

The report, produced by the Pivotal think tank for Belfast Chamber, found that despite recent moves to devolve things like planning, councils in Northern Ireland have a narrow range of powers compared to other models of local governance within the UK.

It concludes that localised decision-making and powers have the potential to act as a catalyst for innovation and economic regeneration.

And the report highlights the advantage of combined authorities, where councils collaborate across boundaries and typically establish a mayoral development corporation to invest in land and infrastructure.

The report also highlights the potential use of ‘free ports' or enterprise zones to create incentives in Belfast, such as deferral of duty or a zero per cent rate of employer National Insurance.

Simon Hamilton said Belfast Chamber commissioned the research in the hope of sparking debate and learning lessons from other areas.

“Our overarching aim as an organisation is to see Belfast succeed,” said the chief executive.

“The process and procedures that allow us deliver that success are an often overlooked but essential ingredient and it is our hope that this report starts a serious conversation, and we encourage everyone to contribute.”

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