Belfast City Council has made a pitch for beefed-up powers as it urged the Government to let it take control of transforming the city.
A council delegation was at Westminster on Wednesday to lobby for the devolution of key functions through a bespoke ‘city deal’ similar to those struck by Manchester and Glasgow.
Councillors want to take over a variety of responsibilities that currently rest with other Government or Stormont departments.
In particular they are seeking to lead on major regeneration projects; up-skilling the city’s citizens; and improving the transport infrastructure, such as building rail links between the city and the Province’s two main airports.
The council also wants greater flexibilities to enable it to access finance to undertake such initiatives.
Councillors are working with think-tank ResPublica, which has helped formulate the proposals and will now steer the political lobbying efforts. The strategic consultancy played a key role in Greater Manchester’s city deal.
ResPublica director Phillip Blond made the case for a tailored Belfast deal at a two-hour event in the Palace of Westminster.
Among those attending were all four of Belfast’s MPs, Secretary of State James Brokenshire, senior Labour party figures Andy Burnham and Baroness Angela Smith and Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.
Representatives of the five main parties on the city council were also there presenting a united voice in favour of a deal.
Mr Blond said Belfast was failing to fulfil its potential because it was unable to make key decisions about its future.
“This is transformative,” he said. “Unless Belfast gets the powers that it needs then it will fall further and further behind.”
He said responsibility for the functions Belfast was seeking was currently fragmented across different levels of government.
“Some of these powers exist in Whitehall, some in Stormont and they are never brought to bear because they are too defuse,” he said.
“So things are never enacted, that’s why Belfast’s got some of the worst infrastructure in the country.”
He added: “We need unified regeneration powers, with single points of decision; we need employment and skills to really drive forward the outcomes and productivity – Belfast’s got one of the lowest productivity rates of cities in Europe.
“We also want to improve connectivity in transport – it’s ridiculous that Belfast doesn’t have any sufficient method of getting from either the International airport or the City airport to the city.
“Finally we want to let Belfast create the financing – that it can just develop without endlessly having to fight its way through bureaucracy at either the level of Stormont or Whitehall.”