Belfast City Council outlines details of £233m plan for city

The Waterfront Hall would be extended to the back to improve convention facilities The Waterfront Hall would be extended to the back to improve convention facilities

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Belfast City Council has announced an investment programme worth £233m over the next three years.

Plans include a £20m extension to the Waterfront Hall to make it an international convention venue.

On Wednesday, the council agreed a rates rise of 2.6% from April to help fund the project. They said it was the lowest increase in a decade.

It will mean the average household bill going up by 35p per week and £2.86 for businesses.

The council said the rise was well below the rate of inflation.

It said the money would go into the investment programme and insisted its services would not be cut as a result.

However, money for the project would not just come from rates, but also from Europe and Stormont.

'Overall benefit'

First Minister Peter Robinson said the benefits would be felt outside Belfast.

"It will create jobs in the construction industry, but improve the infrastructure of any city or any country and you improve its job potential and attractiveness to foreign direct investment.

"So it has an overall benefit to the Northern Ireland economy as well as having a direct benefit for the Belfast economy," he said.

Of the £233m, a sum of £150m will be invested in capital projects, £75m will be spent on city regeneration.

The Waterfront Hall will be just one of a number of areas to benefit, with significant spending also earmarked for council leisure facilities and the old Floral Hall building within the grounds of Belfast Zoo.

There will also be a £3m upgrade to the Mary Peters Athletics track.

A total of £34m is pledged to support economic growth and £29m for community development.

Projects include making a new welcome centre for visitors, sprucing up parks, building new sports pitches and providing more alley gates across the city.

The aim of the programme is to support business and create employment. It has cross-party support.

Overhaul

Tim Attwood, SDLP, said it was a remarkable moment.

"We have to have ambition for this city," he said.

"This is only the beginning of the journey, hopefully, that collectively this council can now start looking at a 20-year plan and set out a vision for that."

John Armstrong of the Construction Employers Federation said the announcement was "an excellent start" and "very positive news".

"It is great news and not just from the perspective of the construction industry," he said.

"This is key to getting the economy going. Belfast City Council is setting a great example that we hope other councils will follow."

Mr Armstrong said it would create employment quickly at a time when unemployment, particularly among young people, is high.

"It creates investment and it gets people back into work," he said.

Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses said: "This is a remarkable coming together of different bodies, organisations and political mindsets.

"We would like to see other councils taking the lead set by Belfast."

The full extent of the multi-million pounds development was revealed to political and business leaders at the Waterfront Hall later on Thursday.

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