Northern Ireland

Belfast councillors want greater economic powers for the city

Belfast City Centre Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Councillors and officials believe a new 'City Deal' for Belfast could herald a brighter future for the city

Belfast could lose out unless it is granted greater economic powers by the executive and the government.

Belfast councillors and officials raised that concern as they travelled to Westminster on Wednesday seeking a new "City Deal".

Representatives from the main local parties heard how a new deal could include:

  • an enterprise zone for Belfast.
  • more access to borrowing
  • access to regeneration powers currently held by the Executive

Philip Blond who is the director of the think tank ResPublica spoke at the meeting in Westminster.

Among those present were representatives from Northern Ireland's five main parties, business leaders and the secretary of state.

'Belfast way way behind'

Mr Blond who has complied a report into the idea of a deal said:

"Those cities like Derry/ Londonderry and indeed Belfast really need their own suite of powers to do their own regeneration, to turn around their own business and to structure their skills provision.

He added: "At the moment Belfast is way way behind where English cities are and there is no good reason for that."

Image caption Councillors and officials want more powers for Belfast to help with economic regeneration

Suzanne Wylie, the Chief Executive of Belfast City Council who hosted the Westminster event, echoed concerns that Belfast could lose out unless a new agreement was put in place.

She said: "If we don't have a city growth deal and have that real focus on investment, the city wont be competitive.

"And certainly in the context of post Brexit we need to really have a focus on city growth and city development, so we can become really competitive and not slide back."

So how would new regeneration powers work?

Gerry Millar from Belfast City Council said new powers could speed up the way development schemes are planned and carried out.

He told the BBC: "We don't have the regeneration powers which means that land assembly and compulsory purchase goes through another department.

"Trying to take a developer through that is quite difficult.

If it was all done with the council 'single point of contact' we can get it done."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Advocates of a 'City Deal' for Belfast believe it could drive investment in jobs

So who benefits from a city deal?

Patrick Gallen works for Price Waterhouse Cooper and believes new powers for Belfast City Council make sense.

He said: "If you look at Belfast as a city and the four neighbouring local authorities they account for 52 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland.

"If we can make this city deal work that will drive a lot of investment in jobs that will not only have an impact on Belfast but will also impact on the wider region."

City deals have already been put in place across the UK in England, Scotland and Wales.

If a deal was agreed between the Executive, the government and Belfast City Council it would be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.

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