Chamber in call to 'accelerate towards delivery of Belfast's regeneration'

Belfast Chamber president Michael Stewart and chief executive Simon Hamilton pictured with Rob Heron (managing partner of event sponsors EY), Andrew Carter (chief executive, Centre for Cities) and Tina Saaby (city architect of Gladsaxe and former city architect of Copenhagen) at the BelFastForward 2022. Picture: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

BELFAST 'doesn't have the luxury of time' to complete its promised regeneration and transform into a globally competitive city like Milan or Copenhagen.

And Belfast Chamber president Michael Stewart, addressing 300 delegates at the BelFastForward conference i the ICC, insisted: “Sometimes it feels like we aren't realising our potential quickly enough”.

The event heard from a range of local, national and international speakers who examined and explored what the pandemic has meant for cities like Belfast and what the future of the city could and should look like.

Mr Stewart said: “As regeneration stories go, Belfast almost has it all. A ‘right-sized city' that is the second biggest city on the island. It's home to some amazingly talented and creative people.

“We have an abundance of centrally located development opportunities. And whilst we can all see with our own eyes the changes which are happening, I speak for many of our members when I say it sometimes feels like we aren't realising our potential quickly enough.

“Perhaps we can be a little impatient, which is understandable given what our city has gone through and the speed of transformation that we see happening in other cities. But other cities like Milan and Copenhagen aren't just thinking about things. They're actually delivering, and their citizens are seeing the difference and businesses are benefitting.”

He added: “As well as opportunity, Belfast also has a lot of vision and strategies. They are fine; necessary even. As a city, we've definitely got the vision and we've got ambition by the bucketful. But it increasingly feels like the time for dreaming is over and the time for doing is overdue.

“A regular refrain we hear from Chamber members is that Belfast is a great place to do business, there is a warm welcome for investors and we are rich with talent, but worryingly things here can take too long.

“We do not have the luxury of time. Other cities are getting on with it and so must we. So, whether it is the Bolder Vision, city centre living or a freeport, our message to those in power, whether that be in City Hall or, especially, at Stormont, is ‘get on with it'.”

He went went on: “It has felt for some time like Belfast is at the beginning of a great period in its history. We are all blessed to live here, work here and be part of what we hope will unfold over the next number of years.

“The pandemic has highlighted the scale of the challenges we still face, but it has also presented us with the opportunity to make the kind of change Belfast badly needs.

“Let's not lose that impetus and instead accelerate towards the delivery of Belfast's regeneration”.

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