Economic Development in West Belfast

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:30 pm on 20th October 2009.

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Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP 7:30 pm, 20th October 2009

Issues have been raised today about employment, unemployment and employment opportunities in west Belfast. I want to draw attention to some of those points in relation to a particular area of west Belfast, namely the Shankill. Not all of the Shankill area is in west Belfast, but a substantial part of it is. The comments that I will make concern that part in west Belfast and the wider community of the greater Shankill.

Many of the points that have already been made are common right across west Belfast and the greater Shankill. I will pick up on a few of those. In regard to the points Paul Maskey made about the potential for tourism, we have seen a tremendous growth in tourism over the years. More and more people from abroad come to Belfast. A number of cruise ships bring people to the city, and many weekend visitors come for short breaks in Belfast.

The difficulty is that all too often people stay in the city centre and do not really go out to the various communities. If they do, it is probably in a bus that drives through those areas but does not actually stop. The visitors look at people and continue on their way, without stopping in those communities to use facilities or to spend money in shops and so on. We must find ways of ensuring that tourism is broadened from the city centre to communities across Belfast — north, south, east and west.

Progress is being made in developing tourism in the Shankill area. The Greater Shankill Partnership and Shankill Tourism, which is part of the partnership, carried out a piece of work some time ago to brand the Shankill. They came up with the brand “Original Belfast” because the Shankill is the oldest part of Belfast. The graveyard on the Shankill Road is at the site of the original Christian settlement in the area; it is the oldest community in Belfast, hence the area was branded as “Original Belfast”. There is a nice picture in the newspaper of the Minister dressed in her “Original Belfast” T-shirt on the occasion of that launch.

Thus, there is potential in the idea of having city quarters, although I accept that there is no limit to the apparently endless number of quarters that a city can have. A proposal is emerging for a Shankill cultural quarter. That should be encouraged, because the Shankill has a good brand name that is known across the world. People from the Shankill have travelled around the world, and it has a rich cultural heritage.

The report of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill task forces has been referred to. I sometimes think that it is almost as though such projects develop with a primary emphasis on west Belfast; the greater Shankill can sometimes be almost forgotten and be a bit of an afterthought. That can be for a number of reasons, particularly historic, because during the period that that report was being prepared, there were internal difficulties in the Shankill that militated against proper engagement in the process.

However, we need to flag up that whenever people talk about west Belfast and the greater Shankill, whether about this or other initiatives, there must be a general recognition that the Shankill community needs to be engaged fully and properly. In some ways, the greater Shankill, and even the west Belfast part of it, is as much linked to north Belfast as it is to west Belfast. I think, for example, of the opportunities that will be presented by the development of the Crumlin Road jail and the courthouse, which sit in north Belfast. However, the streets across the road from those buildings, which are in the lower Shankill, are part of west Belfast. I think that there is huge potential for the Shankill part of west Belfast, in that it is adjacent to and contiguous with the Crumlin Road jail and courthouse. That will be a major tourism draw in the future that will benefit not just north, but west Belfast.

There is also the potential to draw people from that area into the city centre and to draw people up from the Cathedral Quarter as it develops. The Belfast Education and Library Board, and now the Northern Ireland Library Authority have mooted proposals to redevelop Belfast Central Library into a much bigger facility with a full provincial significance. With greater development in that area, we will see some movement of the city’s centre of gravity in that direction. Councillors who represent the north of the city have discussed the idea of using a cultural corridor to link the Cathedral Quarter to the jail and the courthouse so that people can be drawn to that area.

There are as many really significant historic buildings in that short stretch of road as there are in any part of Belfast. From St Patrick’s and the former school beside it, up to the poorhouse, the Orange Hall, the old synagogue in Annesley Street, the Clifton Street graveyard, St Malachy’s, the Mater Hospital and so on, right up to the jail —