Economic Development in West Belfast

Part of Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:15 pm on 20th October 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party 7:15 pm, 20th October 2009

I concur with my colleague from West Belfast. There are many other proposals that I could make to the Minister in writing in due course, but that is why, in an indicative way, the adjustments that I have recommended, along with others, can reprofile west Belfast so that it becomes that much more attractive to any new investors that INI may bring in in the coming year and beyond.

Ultimately, a strategic approach to development is required. No constituency in the North has, by itself and through external advice, developed better projects to sustain and accelerate its economic development. Consider the DSD proposal for the Andersonstown gateway, the enterprise proposals for the Black Mountain, the Andersonstown village, the Gaeltacht quarter, Fernhill House and the village communities in the Shankill and elsewhere. Consider the proposals that have come from the West Belfast Partnership Board, which is a mature organisation that has experienced a great deal of growth and pain over the years. It is not for want of visionary proposals that are right for the constituency that economic development has not gone as far as it should have. It needs a strategic approach, and the time has come for the constituency and government to decide what such an approach should be.

There are many options. Some people argue for an urban development strategy, such as those of Laganside Corporation or the Maze/Long Kesh. Others say that the strategic regeneration framework, which knits together the city and could knit together the constituency, is in place and is the right model. Some people in the community sector in west Belfast, for whom I have the greatest regard, just say, “Get on with it”. They do not want us to get too heavily involved in the architecture.

I have a view about how that issue should be resolved, but it needs to be resolved so that proposals, such as those for the Andersonstown gateway, which Margaret Ritchie described as far-reaching and transformative, and those which the Enterprise Council calls “Think Transformation” can be realised over the next decade. It could, realistically, take that amount of time.

I have offered some solutions to the problem of the lack of development in west Belfast, but the question is why it is so. It is not just because this part of our country has suffered, along with north Belfast, the greatest loss of life and the greatest upset and disorder through the years of conflict; it is also because west Belfast, when measured across virtually every multiple deprivation index, comes out bottom or near bottom of the league. That is confirmed by figures released in August, which state that the West Belfast constituency — I have not mentioned any part of West Belfast, I refer to the entire constituency — has the fourth highest unemployment rate of any Westminster constituency. That rate includes 22·6% of males and 7·3% of females: 15·8% overall. Imagine a street where 22·6% of the adult male population are not in work.

Although those figures are harsh, they do not begin to tell the story of the struggle that some people face in order to live in those conditions. Those figures cannot convey the hopelessness and exasperation of people in that condition. They cannot and do not convey how alienating life can be for people in that condition. They cannot measure the damage done to the soul of an individual or of a community that has displayed such resilience in the face of adversity in every other way over the past 30 or 40 years. For all those reasons, I hope that the debate might be a catalyst to further, urgent actions around those matters.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. Someone recently said that, over the past 10 or 20 years, there have been five Presidents, five Prime Ministers, three Secretaries-General of the UN and there has been enormous global change, but, for all the change in our society, a lot of that has yet to impact on the abject conditions of poverty and deprivation faced by far too many in west Belfast.