Election can be turning point in creating a new, better Belfast

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

BELFAST has a rich economic history. Once boasting the world’s largest shipyard, our city drove Europe’s industrial revolution in the likes of the linen and food trade, shaping the global markets we see today. A century later, while Samson & Goliath remain, so much has changed in the way we do business.

For city traders, the last five years have been the toughest in a generation. Brexit, the Primark fire, a global pandemic – each on their own enough to pose crippling disruption to local business.

But with war returning to Europe and costs-of-business sky-rocketing, it seems we are now amid a perfect storm of uncertainty and instability, with no immediate end in sight.

With these challenges in mind, Thursday’s election could not have come at a more decisive time. Belfast businesses are working incredibly hard, driving our economy forward post-pandemic, and helping our city truly build back better.

But they cannot do it alone. And the message from business is clear: nothing less than a newly formed Executive and Assembly will do.

Our vision for Belfast is an ambitious one, and ahead of this week’s poll, we have set out five steps the next set of ministers and MLAs can take to transform our city’s economy.

First, ensuring our city’s streets are clean and safe. If we are to compete with thriving tech hubs like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, we must do more to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. Belfast is an attractive prospect for many, but attracting the workers, tourists, and families our economy needs will require a new, joined-up approach.

Second, empowering Belfast and the city region. Our local councils enjoy far fewer powers to deliver the regeneration, infrastructure, and economic development that we require. The commissioning of a review into the powers of local government is an excellent opportunity to supercharge the whole city region’s economy.

Third, growing our city centre population. Our Growing Belfast report set out the target of building 11,500 residential units in the city centre, swelling our population by over 20,000. A new, bespoke Belfast city centre housing plan could deliver this ambition, with each of us reaping the social, economic, and environmental rewards.

Fourth, transforming Belfast into a people centred city. We need open, green spaces alongside walking and cycling infrastructure that encourages active and sustainable travel. The incoming Infrastructure and Communities Ministers can look towards Milan, Paris and Chicago, cities revitalised through strong central investment.

Fifth, boosting the entire region’s economy. Investments like those in the Glider, Ulster University, Titanic Belfast, and much more have reshaped Belfast into a modern, cosmopolitan city. By accelerating these infrastructure projects, we can radically change our economic fortunes for the better.

The Industrial Revolution was a turning point for Belfast. It heralded a golden age of prosperity, growth, and transformation.

This election, too, can be a turning point to create a new, better Belfast that is emerging from the past but headed towards a brighter future.

Simon Hamilton is chief executive of Belfast Chamber of Commerce

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