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Belfast City

Global and Local Experts Say it’s Time to Press the Reset Button

The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC, has published forward-looking, pragmatic proposals for NI and Belfast to press the reset button on how prosperity and growth is delivered.

In its independent ‘Reset for Growth’ report, the commission was tasked with focusing on inclusive growth which benefits the whole community. Climate change was also a central consideration for the commission in setting up Belfast for long-term global success, mirroring other cities and examples of international best practice, especially after the impacts of Covid-19.

Sir Michael was joined by global, national and local experts including the World Economic Forum, CBI, and the Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, in taking evidence on challenges and opportunities here over a two-year period.  

The ‘Reset for Growth’ report stresses that urgent and radical action is needed to turn around Northern Ireland’s struggling economy and deliver better future opportunities for people living here.

The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission has set out a wide range of propositions to amplify the city and region’s future success under four focused action areas:

  • More globally relevant – Belfast and the region needs to up its game in supporting trade and investment successes.  The opportunity exists for the region to punch well above its weight, but it must seize it.
  • Immediate action on climate change and turning this into an economic opportunity – the report recommends starting with retrofitting homes across the region and decarbonising transport to reduce demand on fossil fuels, with a target for Belfast to be Carbon Neutral by 2050.   The Commission also believes that Belfast needs to grow its GreenTech industries at pace.
  • Housing development – Housing development needs to sit at the core of the city’s renewal plans. The provision, quality and affordability of housing is a key ingredient to a city’s attractiveness as well as offering a significant economic benefit.
  • Stronger core city – Belfast and other economic hubs need investment to bounce back from Covid-19 and other underlying economic and social challenges if they are to drive the region’s recovery.  
  • A laser focus on building world-renowned business clusters – through large scale investment in research and innovation and developing capability and talent.

The report recommends housebuilding at scale to provide more homes in the city centre, for the first time putting homes at the heart of economic recovery and challenging the public sector to incentivise this with land in its ownership.

The report also outlines that how the city looks and works needs to be completely reshaped with more social and green space, café culture and sustainable transport, drawing on the best examples across the globe. 

The commission is also clear that these propositions need to be delivered in a way that reduces the gap in living standards across local communities, with a significant focus on developing new ways of supporting people to develop skills and retrain for future jobs.

Sir Michael said: “The Commission was challenged to come up with actions that would promote the growth of investment and jobs for Belfast and beyond. We have consistently focussed on practical measures, especially those which will serve to protect the environment and address existing inequalities. We have done this against the backdrop of the Covid crisis which has further damaged the city’s economic fabric. We are confident that our recommendations, taken together, offer a serious plan to reset the city’s prospects over the next 10 years.”

He added: “The likely impact of our proposals goes well beyond Belfast and its surrounding areas because we are clear that the city’s economic health is vital to the whole of Northern Ireland, and indeed the UK. They will call for bold leadership and energetic efforts by the various agencies and governments who share an interest in the future prosperity of Northern Ireland.

“We have had several conversations with departments of the NI Executive and know that they are together developing key policies for the economy, skills, and energy as well as a wider Covid recovery plan. The commission is confident its work will assist the Executive with its plans; not least because of our emphasis on practical measures that can be started quickly and the strong partnership that has been forged between Belfast-based commissioners and their agencies.”

“Uniquely, many of the local commissioners have agreed to champion each of the main propositions and continue to influence their implementation. Belfast as a city is also committed to provide leadership across its council, landowners, and universities to drive forward action and co-invest.  The whole Commission has offered to reconvene in one year’s time to report on progress and I am confident that we will not be disappointed,” Sir Michael added.

Councillor Áine Groogan, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee said: “Council is very impressed with the Commission’s report and will be making its own specific delivery commitments over the next few weeks.   It is very much in line with The Belfast Agenda, the aspirations of the Belfast Region City Deal and the brilliant work of the Innovation City Belfast partnership.

“The Commission’s proposals are forward–looking, far-reaching and require system-wide change, but it is important that we don’t stand still, and face these challenges head on. The pandemic and its impact will be felt for months, if not years ahead, and so we now have an opportunity to regroup, refocus and reset to ensure our ambitions, investments and interventions are fit for purpose and will deliver tangible outcomes for our residents.”

Belfast City Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie added: “The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, current Non-Executive Chair of the English Cities Fund, first brought together representatives from the World Economic Forum, Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Ernst Young, British Land, CBI Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other key partners in autumn 2019.

“I would like to thank Sir Michael Lyons and all the members of the Commission who have given a huge amount of their personal time to provide expert advice. We are fortunate to benefit from this commission; with its combined knowledge and expertise, it has stress tested and challenged both regional and city plans and emphasised the importance of our global positioning. The report’s findings will help us set the direction of travel for the city as we put our recovery plan into action.

“The Commission has stressed the importance of inclusivity, and I would echo the need not only to create more jobs and improve livelihoods, but also to increase investment in skills, education and training, meeting housing needs and ensuring a just transition when dealing with climate change.”

A copy of the Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission report is available by emailing bccmedia@belfastcity.gov.uk

Belfast City

Spectacular Ogham Grove Opens Tonight In Cathedral Quarter

Cathedral Quarters Writers’ Square will tonight (September 17) be transformed into a spectacular installation from the creative team for CNB21 Presents: The Ogham Grove.

From 6pm tonight through until Sunday evening visitors can experience an interactive celebration of the ancient druidic language, with massive representations of trees, sounds and lighting weaving a path of learning about the language and the chance to win prizes.

Ogham Grove replaces the previous city centre based programme of street based activity and pop-up events.

Although the plans for this year are monumental in size, Culture Night Belfast and CQ Trust director Susan Picken said visitors should not expect the same on-street celebration as years gone by.

Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre. The impact of COVID has led to a major review of the event however.

Susan said: “Culture Night 2021 will be much smaller in scale and scope and will take the form of an on-site installation that people can drop into and enjoy over the course of the weekend – this different format will allow us to focus on safety as well as making sure everyone has a great time.”

The brains behind the concept include creative lead Gawain Morrison, artist and prop designer Dylan McCaughtry, designer Neil Beattie, lighting designer Tomás FitzGerald and drum loop producer Damian Mills.

Gawain Morrison said that the concept of The Ogham Grove “draws inspiration from the ancient Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet which dives deep into the era where nature and myths intertwined”. 

This year, as well as experiencing The Ogham Grove itself, visitors will be able to take part in an accompanying interactive experience that will lead them through the Cathedral Quarter, and also take them on a journey of personal discovery.

According to Gawain the immersive nature inspired trail and competition will mean visitors can take something special away from the experience.

“For somebody who will be coming to this, the several points of access means it is going to be a very experiential and sensory experience,” he explained. 

“I hope that as visitors walk around whether it’s in the day or night, that they will take something away from it.”

Across the Cathedral Quarter area, there will be five zones each representing one of the five families of the Ogham alphabet.

To be eligible to win a prize, participants must find and scan a QR code found on one of the trail’s bespoke wooden plaques and take note of the lines of poetry displayed.

Prizes to be won include vouchers for restaurants, gift tokens to purchase your own pieces of art and tickets to shows coming up in the Cathedral Quarter and will be announced at the end of the Culture Night weekend.

This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.

To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media

Issued by Excalibur Press on behalf of CNB Presents: The Ogham Grove 

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Belfast City

Cathedral Quarter BID Celebrates Success Of Street Beat Police Presence In Area

An initiative that saw additional dedicated police officers patrolling Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been welcomed as a proven success story by Destination CQ’s manager Damien Corr.

The Ballot for the continuation of the Cathedral Quarter Business Improvement District (BID) is currently open until September 22. In an independent survey carried out in advance of the ballot, the Street Beat (#streetbeat) programme was seen as one of the key projects that adds value for businesses and organisations in the area, over 90% of respondents prioritised it for inclusion in the Business Plan for the next 5 years.

The StreetBeat officers are paid for by the BID and are additional to the normal policing provided by PSNI. The initiative was a direct response to local business owners’ concerns regarding antisocial activity within the areas. 

BID manager Damien Corr said: “As the businesses are paying for the service, it was essential that they felt in ‘control’, accordingly the officers have a designated phone which our Cathedral Quarter businesses can call direct 07787432635. This ability to bypass the general PSNI Switchboard is key to a more effective localised response.”

The officers patrol the area on foot and in their distinctive CQ street beat branded vehicle, dealing with anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. They also visit premises offering practical security and personnel safety advice and equipment.

StreetBeat PSNI officer Michael Gillies added: “Being given the time and support both by the BID and PSNI management, I have been allowed to focus my work specifically within the Cathedral Quarter and its needs. 

“This has helped to strengthen relationships already made with businesses and also to forge new ones. It’s back to basics Neighbourhood policing, only this time the neighbourhood is my local business community”.

However, the future of the scheme in the Cathedral Quarter relies on a ‘yes’ vote for a new five-year term for the Business Improvement District organisation Destination CQ.

With ballot papers already issued and voting by post closing on September 22, Mr Corr is keen to remind voters of what could be lost without their votes.

“The BID levy payers have told us that they really appreciate the work done by our Street Beat officers who, between them, have provided 2080 extra policing hours targeted patrolling,” he said. 

“They were particularly effective over lockdown when lots of properties were left unattended. Our officers continued to patrol, checking on closed business premises and providing assurance and practical assistance to those who continued to work.

“It is a simple reality, that unless we get a yes vote in the ballot, aloof this additional targeted policing will be lost to Cathedral Quarter.”

Sorcha Woolsy, Operations Director of Beannchor with a number of businesses in the BID area said the BID has carried out a number of projects that have impacted the Beannchor suite of businesses.

“The one that really stands out to me is the provision of the City Centre Beat Officers,” she added.

“It’s a really good example of an initiative that a BID can provide that an individual business could not on their own. 

“For me, it is imperative to vote yes on the re-ballot of the BID. The collective energy and brainpower and money of a group of businesses all pulling in the same direction for the betterment of this area will inevitably gain better results than individual businesses doing little bits and pieces on their own.”

For more information on the work of Destination CQ and Street Beat go to cathedralquarterbelfast.com or contact Damien Corr on 02890 314 011.

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