The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC, has today published forward-looking, pragmatic proposals for NI and Belfast 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.
Sir Michael 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.
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.
The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission has set out a wide range of propositions to amplify the city and region’s future success 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.
The report 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.
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.
Sir Michael said: “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. 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.”
He added: “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.
“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,” Sir Michael added.
Councillor Áine Groogan, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee said: “Council is very impressed with the commission’s report and will be making its own specific delivery commitments over the next few weeks. It 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’s proposals are forward–looking, far-reaching and require system-wide change, but it is important that we don’t stand still, and face these challenges head on. The pandemic and its impact will be felt for months, if not years ahead, and so we now have an opportunity to regroup, refocus and reset to ensure our ambitions, investments and interventions are fit for purpose and will deliver tangible outcomes for our residents.”
Belfast City Council Chief Executive Suzanne Wylie added: “The Belfast Innovation and Inclusive Growth Commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, current Non-Executive Chair of the English Cities Fund, first brought together representatives from the World Economic Forum, Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Ernst Young, British Land, CBI Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other key partners in autumn 2019.
“I would like to thank Sir Michael Lyons and all the members of the Commission who have given a huge amount of their personal time to provide expert advice. We are fortunate to benefit from this commission; with its combined knowledge and expertise, it has stress tested and challenged both regional and city plans and emphasised the importance of our global positioning. The report’s findings will help us set the direction of travel for the city as we put our recovery plan into action.
“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.”