West Belfast MP Gerry Adams yesterday welcomed a massive £100 million plan for the economic, educational, social and cultural regeneration of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill areas.

An integrated area strategy – based on the findings and recommendations of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Taskforces Report issued in February 2002 – was yesterday submitted to government minister, Ian Pearson, for his consideration.

The purpose of the strategy is to prioritise the needs of the area, link these priorities to the responsibilities of different government departments and maximise the potential benefits for people living in the area.

Work on the strategy was carried out by a Joint Working Group (JWG) drawn from the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces, Belfast and Lisburn City Councils, the Belfast and Lisburn Local Strategy Partnerships and relevant government departments. The group was co-chaired by John Simpson from the Task Forces, and a senior official from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Professional planning and evaluation assistance was provided by Deloitte consulting.

The JWG have registered a total bid of some £31 million from the new Integrated Development Fund, which was established last March, to support the £100 million regeneration plan for the area.

The balance of the £100 million will come from a variety of sources including local and central government, European funds and the private sector.

The plan is based around seven themes and involves the following projects:
• a special Task Force initiative for the education of children and young people. This project is designed to make a well-targeted and focused effort to ensure that more of the young people growing up throughout West Belfast and Greater Shankill are encouraged and motivated to take fuller advantage of their early years of learning in preparation for the world of work
• projects aimed at improving the employability and earning prospects of people who live in the area which will be advanced by new training investments proposed by the Belfast Institute for Further & Higher Education, and by the ground-breaking work of the recently-created Employment Services Board

• a number of projects directly linked to efforts to provide jobs. Invest NI’s development of the Forth River Business Park project on the former Mackies site is underway and will provide a major support to the regeneration plans.

In addition, more units for new businesses are proposed, as well as the creation of an Enterprise Council to co-ordinate ideas for enterprise development

• a new flexible fund to support social economy projects aimed at assisting ‘hard to reach’ groups into employment has been proposed, as well as projects to provide sustainable employment for ex-prisoners and to increase childcare facilities in the Suffolk area

• major schemes to improve and regenerate the living and business environment along major arterial routes across the Task Force area, including parts of the Falls Road, the Shankill Road, the Springfield Road and the Crumlin Road. Linked to these is a similar scheme for the Colin neighbourhood (Twinbrook, Poleglass and Lagmore)

• a number of projects aimed at enhancing the prospects for job creation, cultural promotion and tourism in the Greater Shankill area

• plans for the development of a Gaeltacht area in West Belfast and the refurbishment of Conway Mill.

John Simpson, Co-Chair of the Joint Working Group, said: “In analysing the core needs which must be addressed in these areas, the Joint Working Group came to the view that developing a package of measures aimed at tackling the basic issues impacting upon literacy and numeracy across all wards in the Task Force area was of overarching significance and importance.

“In this context, the project proposed as a special Task Force initiative for the education of children and young people is considered to be particularly important.

“The remaining projects submitted as part of our bid to the Integrated Development Fund represent a package of interventions across a number of cross-cutting strategic themes. As such, progress on the entire package provides a greater potential contribution to the socio-economic and physical regeneration of the Task Force areas than the sum of the individual projects.

“The Joint Working Group sees the entire package as worthy of support.
“It is also important to note the significance of the Joint Working Group which has brought together people from each of the two Task Forces. They have demonstrated an ability to work in true partnership to develop an integrated approach to regeneration which will benefit both areas.”

The proposals have now been presented to the responsibile Minister, Ian Pearson MP, for his consideration, and the Joint Working Group hope to arrange a discussion with the Minister and OFMDFM officials to ensure that decisions about funding can be made at the earliest opportunity.

West Belfast MP Gerry Adams yesterday welcomed the application by the West Belfast Taskforce Joint Working Group to the Integrated Development Fund.

“I would hope that today marks a turning point in the process of regenerating West Belfast,” said Mr Adams. “The bid is ambitious and of a scale to make real change across the constituency.

“It contains projects which, taken together, will make a real change to the people of West Belfast and contribute significantly to the economy of all of Belfast.

“The projects included in the bid are designed to complement each other and build a holistic approach to regeneration. The projects seek to promote West Belfast as a place to invest in, they seek to break down the barriers to employment and to build on the positive aspects of life in West Belfast.”

Mr Adams said that when he first urged for the establishment of an Economic Taskforce for West Belfast over a decade ago it was in belief that the poverty facing the community was not intractable.

“It could be ended by positive action to redress inequality. We needed a co-ordinated strategic plan devised and agreed by government departments, local business people and community organisations.

“This work was progressed under the sponsorship of local ministers and the Task Force Report was delivered on time reflecting the urgency of the situation across West Belfast.

“Our task now has to make the Task Force Report a reality. The establishment of the Employment Services Board last month was an important part of this implementation. The application to the Integrated Development Fund is another.

“I would hope that the urgency of the situation is reflected in the government’s consideration of this bid.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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