Local government report

City deals’ ‘major milestone’ progress

Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP signed the heads of terms for the Belfast Region City Deal in March 2019, alongside the deal’s partners and the civil service. The signing represents a major step forward to the deliverance of the first deal of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The heads of terms are the outline business case for the deal and their signing has been greeted with unanimous support across the political and business spectrums, as It has moved the beginning of the funding provided by the £350 million deal ever closer.

The UK Government has said that it expects the £350 million — to be delivered over 15 years — to be matched by the Northern Ireland Assembly upon the return of devolved government. Along with investment from private sector partners, the Government has said they expect the economic boost from the deal to surpass £1 billion.

Bradley was “absolutely delighted” to sign the terms, adding that she is “engaging closely” with the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond MP, to secure a funding announcement the Derry and Strabane Region City Deal, which was controversially omitted of last year’s UK Budget, in which the Belfast Region City Deal was included.

The City Deal is the result of collaboration between six councils: Belfast City Council; Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council; Ards and North Down Borough Council; Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council; Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; and Newry, Mourne and Down Borough Council.

The improvements envisaged by the deal are far reaching both in location and in sector. 22 projects are numbered in the plans for the Belfast region, including:

  • the establishment of a Global Innovation Institute in Belfast, focussed on agri-food, cybersecurity, financial services and healthcare;
  • investment in digital connectivity;
  • the construction of new tourist attractions and landmarks;
  • the development of facilities at both Carrickfergus Castle and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens;
  • the extension of the Gobbins coastal path;
  • the regeneration of Bangor seafront;
  • the development of the Mourne Mountains into a tourist attraction;
  • the extension of the Belfast Rapid Transport System; and
  • the provision of employability and skills programmes specifically focussed on digital skills.

Northern Ireland is the last constituent area of the UK to receive a City Deal, with over 30 having been awarded in Great Britain since their conception in 2012. They are designed to stimulate growth and provide more spending power and decision-making capabilities to local authorities, something that is especially relevant in Northern Ireland’s current political context.

Speaking as she signed the heads of terms, Bradley said: “This transformative deal will bolster innovation, productivity and prosperity across the region, and I am delighted to see the hard work which has gone into this deal come to fruition.” It has been projected that the City Deal could deliver upwards of 20,000 jobs to the area if it is delivered to its full potential.

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