Tue 22nd Nov 2016
December 2016: New Transport Hub offers more than just a boost for Belfast
Nick Coburn, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Earlier this month, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard spoke to a gathering of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry members in our latest ‘In Camera’ series of dinners. The Minister talked about the potential of investment in our infrastructure as a means of unleashing the economic potential of the region. He also offered some encouragement as to the progress being made, for example, in the road network in the west of the province and on steps being taken to regenerate our cities and towns.
Not far from the location of the dinner at Belfast’s Europa Hotel, a new regional transport hub, incorporating rail and bus links, is planned for Belfast, on the site of the Europa Bus centre. The public consultation for this urban regeneration transport-led scheme is currently underway and closes on 2 December 2016.
Currently 8 million passenger journeys take place at Great Victoria Street train station and the adjacent Europa Bus centre, up from 6.7 million in 2012 while passenger growth is forecast to rise to over 13 million by 2040. During peak times, 22 trains per hour roll in and out of Great Victoria Street station while there are hundreds of bus departures from and arrivals at the Europa Bus centre on a daily basis.
The plan is ambitious in scope with the brand new Hub providing better facilities and essential additional capacity for bus and rail services to cater for a growing customer base. At a cost of £200 million it represents a major investment of public funds.
The new Hub will serve very practical uses as a new gateway between greater Belfast and connecting towns and cities with bus and rail services. As Belfast and Northern Ireland continues to attract new Foreign Direct Investment and our population – including city dwellers – increases, more people will use public transport.
New city based student accommodation will also put additional strain on public transport so an infrastructure solution is required. Just last week transport getting out of Belfast ground to a halt when three major crowd attracting events coincided with a lorry shedding a load on the Westlink. That kind of gridlock exposes an inherent weakness in our transport infrastructure and the new Hub can be a part of the necessary response.
However the direct, transport linked benefits of the new project only tell part of the story. Given the location on a 20 acre brownfield site, the new Hub can be a socio-economic intervention in a part of the city which has been playing catch up with the regeneration that has occurred in other areas of Belfast.
Comparable transport based projects across the UK and Republic of Ireland have led to lasting regeneration of formerly underused urban space. The new Hub will be the face of a new Belfast and business and tourist visitors alike will be encouraged to stay, return and do business in our main city.
In addressing a transport need the new Transport Hub has the potential to deliver on its primary objective and much, much more.