Belfast Innovation Commission plans to 'reset the button' on city's growth

  • Photo: Members of the Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission

    The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission has published proposals for NI and the city 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.

    Chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC, the commission 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.

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    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.

    A range of propositions to amplify the city and region’s future success were listed 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.

    It 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.

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    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.

    “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," Sir Michael said.

    "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.

    “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.

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    “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,” he added.

    Councillor Áine Groogan, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee added that the report "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 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," she concluded. 

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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