Welcome to a new world order for Northern Ireland at least... possibly

The Belfast Region Deal is a chance at the first real development in the province in over 50 years
The Belfast Region Deal is a chance at the first real development in the province in over 50 years

For anyone of a certain age in Northern Ireland there will have been no time that they were able to vote for someone who had even a remote chance of shaping actual policy on taxation or any other frontline issue.

The Assembly and the Executive promised a change in that status quo but achieved little in real terms before its final dramatic collapse in January last year.

Now, Belfast is aiming to create 20,000 jobs over 10 years with an ambitious and far-reaching development plan that has the potential to improve business and lives across the province and give Northern the sort of profile it hasn’t enjoyed in a very long time.

If successful, the Belfast City Region Deal will see co-investment of £1 billion from the Government, local government, the universities and private sector based around a huge programme of economic growth.

Focusing on four key investment pillars: digital and innovation, infrastructure, tourism led regeneration and skills and employability, it also reaches out into the rest of the province with support from six local councils with infrastructute and leisure and tourism schemes.

The bid is for £450 million to come from the Treasury to be matched by another £450m from the Executive, presuming we get one at some stage.

But crucial factors at play here include accessibility to the Treasury cash without an Executive and the fact that Belfast and the other councils involved now have planning powers and can take decisions on things that they haven’t been able to for a very long time.

One project identified as being of critical importance is the completion of the Newry southern relief road, while the establisment of a 5G zone in Titanic Quarter is attracting interest from players such as Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Years ago I interviewed Tom Delay, CEO of the Carbon Trust, who was speaking to a conference at the then Waterfront Hall. Talking later - off the record and with no agenda - he waxed lyrical about our tech abilities and the global standing of our universities.

It was eminently possible, he argued, to make Belfast a city of global importance.

“You did it 100 years ago,” he said. “All you have to do is remember how.”