Belfast City Council keen to learn about city centre connectivity from members and partners

Professor Cathy Parker, Co-Chair of IPM was invited to Northern Ireland by new IPM Partners Belfast City Council to present to the City Centre Programme Board, Joint City Centre Regeneration Taskforce and interested officers from across departments at Council and Assembly.

Cathy took part in a two-day programme of meetings that were designed to reflect on progress made, following a fire in Primark's flagship store in August 2018. The Regeneration Taskforce and a City Centre and Investment Strategy have both been created as a result of the fire to plan for the future of the city.

Cathy presented high street trends, explored Belfast’s performance in relation to its counterparts across the UK and made recommendations for how the city could manage a more successful offer to shoppers, residents and tourists. Particular reference was given to the new forms of government programmes and support available in other regions of the UK, city leadership models, pedestrianisation and the criticality of city centres for the wider economy and the need for investment for successful city centres.

Commenting on the two days of discussion Cathy said, "it is clear to see that city centre management and development is being taken very seriously in Belfast.”

The City Centre Programme Board is attended by the Council’s Chief Executive, Suzanne Wylie; Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Finance & Resources, Ronan Cregan; City Solicitor, John Walsh; Strategic Director of Place & Economy, Alistair Reid; Director of Economic Development, John Greer and Director of Regeneration, Cathy Reynolds with other senior managers. Cathy applauded the process, saying “You have everyone in the same room who can quickly make action happen."

As well as the City Centre Programme Board, there is a Joint City Centre Regeneration Task Force, co-chaired by Suzanne Wylie and the Head of the Civil Service, David Sterling. Task Force membership includes Cathy Reynolds and Alistair Reid from the Council along with the Permanent Secretary of Department of Finance, Sue Gray; Permanent Secretary of Department for Communities, Tracy Meharg; Permanent Secretary of Department for Infrastructure, Katrina Godfrey; Permanent Secretary of Department for Economy Noel Lavery and Regeneration Director Department for Communities, Mark O’Donnell.

"This body provides the investment and high-level strategy to ensure city centre regeneration is coherent with plans and policies for the rest of Northern Ireland", said Cathy. "It is really good to see how the City Centre Programme Board and Task Force complement each other and ensure that there is strong place leadership for Belfast" she added.

However, like all places, there is still work to be done. IPM is currently evaluating the city centre strategy against its 25 Vitality and Viability Priorities to ensure effort and investment is going to make the most positive impact. The city centre, in common with other UK cities, has some way to go be more liveable and more connected, with connectivity to neighbourhoods and districts that surround the centre a particularly important issue. 

Belfast city centre leaders are keen to hear from other IPM members and partners that have relevant experience to share. They would like to learn from others who have had experience with pedestrianisation and other schemes which can improve liveability and the public realm. They are also interested in exploring schemes that have increased accessibility by a variety of modes of transport and can connect the city with more walking and cycling routes. If you have any advice to share please contact ipm@mmu.ac.uk and we will put you in touch.