Ministerial Statement: Quality Initiative
Belfast City Region
Last May, we began a debate about the future of Belfast. I suggested that we work together to produce a long term vision which would set out the type of city we would like to see in twenty or twenty-five years time.
In working to create a vision for Belfast, however, we cannot think of the city as something that functions separately from the wider area in which it is situated. There is an interdependence at many levels between the core city and the neighbouring towns and villages.
Thousands of people live in places like Antrim, Bangor, Banbridge and Downpatrick but work in Belfast. The city centre is a draw for shopping, entertainment and leisure while the region provides numerous opportunities to the city dweller for open air recreation. The city provides specialist hospital facilities and further education. The ports of Belfast and Larne serve the needs of the region and indeed places much further afield. I could quote other examples but I trust I have said enough to make the point that there is an entity which constitutes the Belfast City Region.
I believe that the city region is the right context for us to consider the important planning and development challenges which lie ahead. In other parts of the world the city region has become the hub of the international economy. The mobility of business demands that we must enhance the competitiveness of the region as a whole, and redefine what we mean when we speak of “the city” to embrace the entire region as one community. Within the community a strong and dynamic core is essential, but the interdependence, to which I have referred, calls for a mutually beneficial and integrated strategy for development.
The Belfast City Region has a population of about one million people. The need for an overview, looking long term, particularly at where new development will be located, is reinforced by evidence that this population is growing and by the increase in the number of new households. The projected growth in households suggests that we are likely to have to provide for a significant number of new homes in the city region over the next quarter century – perhaps as many as 100,000.
In the light of these factors, we need to review the issues facing the city region and to decide what shape the pattern of development might be – well into the next century. As a first step in this process, I am today publishing a discussion paper entitled “The Belfast City Region – Towards and Beyond the Millennium”.
This document signals a new approach to the way in which we determine the future pattern of development. It seeks to move us beyond land use planning to address social and economic issues related to the quality of place and the quality of life. It reminds us that Belfast is an evolving city. It will, I hope, evoke in the people’s minds an image that as a place in which to live, visit or invest, the Belfast City Region is positive rather than negative: supportive rather than destructive: enterprising rather than dependent.
My aim is to stimulate debate and so the document sets out a number of key questions. These are not meant to be prescriptive nor are they exhaustive but they are designed to give structure to the debate.
The central issue is how and where new development should be accommodated within the city region. I am looking for views on the broad approach which is likely to command the widest support and makes most sense in terms of sustainable development. I am suggesting that such an approach could be based on the following four key aims:
- firstly, we should seek to accelerate the recovery of the inner and middle city, and make them more attractive locations for housing;
- secondly, we should limit new development on the edge of the urban area to those locations where sustainability and quality objectives can be achieved;
- thirdly, we should conserve the quality of the environment throughout the city region, and this would include strong control over sporadic development in the countryside; and
- fourthly, we should manage further expansion of towns and villages in the city region, so that development is concentrated at those locations which are best able to accommodate growth.
Today, I invite everyone who has a concern for the future of the city and the region to come forward with comments, constructive criticism and proposals. I am initiating an extensive consultation process. Over the next six months, my Department will sponsor a range of seminars and discussion groups to take account of as wide a range of views as possible, including those of district councils, community groups, developers and organisations with a constituency in planning the environment. I myself will be available for discussions with elected representatives.
Following this period of discussion, I intend to bring forward for further consultation early next year more detailed proposals which take account of the views expressed.