City regeneration plans unveiled

The area around the cathedral is targeted for regeneration

Plans to develop Belfast's city centre could result in 4,000 new jobs, the government has said.

The city could get two more department stores in a major redevelopment.

The government has unveiled two draft master plans for the Castlecourt and Cathedral areas which include retail developments, as well as housing and leisure facilities.

The government also announced that £14m is to be spent improving public spaces and footpaths.

Minister for Social Development John Spellar said on Monday that after decades of under performance, Belfast was "on the way back".

"These proposals hold the potential to deliver at least 4,000 new jobs in addition to the 3,000 at Victoria Square," he said.

"These jobs will provide career opportunities for our young people and the prospect of building a better life for those who live in deprived neighbourhoods."

Development consultant Gerry Hughes of City Centre Development said this was a real opportunity for Belfast.

"It is light years behind cities like Manchester and Liverpool, even places like Preston, which are rediscovering their city centres and putting substantial investment in the form of new shopping back into their cities," he said.

"Now is the opportunity for Belfast really to rise to the fore again. There is phenomenal spending power in the province."

The question of how best to redevelop Belfast city centre has been under consideration since the 1990's.

The first phase of work - in the shape of the new Victoria Centre - is already under way.

Plans have also been unveiled for the winding up of the Laganside corporation, which has overseen the development of land along the river for more than a decade.

The organisation has said that its job is largely done, with the private sector now needing no extra encouragement to look for opportunities in the city.

Castlecourt owners Westfield and Hermes welcomed the announcement.

"Westfield and Hermes are keen to progress their proposed expansion of Castlecourt shopping centre as soon as practicable and will therefore carefully review the North West Quarter masterplan and work to ensure that any new development meets or exceeds the objectives set out in the Belfast City Centre Regeneration Policy Framework," it said.

"As a result, Westfield may revise its planning application for an extension to Castlecourt. If so, an announcement will be made in due course."

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