I welcome the announcement this morning by the Conservative led Coalition Government in London that Planning Policy is to be changed to encourage Change of Use from Commercial to Housing in English Cities. The hope is the initiative will lead to the creation of a quarter of a million homes.
I will look closely at the details of the proposal, but this is exactly what is needed to transform dead and intimidating city centres into living communities.
It doesn’t follow that the NI Planning Service will follow, but I will lobby that they do. I suspect from bitter experience they will not like to let go of control. Typically everything takes too long and requires applicants to jump through too many hoops. I will not bore you with the details here, but the 'rules and regulations' dreamt up by jobs worths make it hard to breath never mind live in the city.
Belfast is one of the least densely populated cities in Europe. We need to encourage more people to come and live in the city and bring it to life and to use and help sustain the great facilities we have.
Karen and I were at a function last night in the Ulster Reform Club in Royal Avenue. It was depressing to come out [and it was’t very late] and find the city deserted and those people who were lurking didn’t make it a welcoming environment.
I used to have a flat in Edinburgh City Centre for business reasons when I was visiting that great city 3-days a week. By contrast that City was buzzing, not in a negative way, late into the evening, with coffee shops open as well as pubs and restaurants.
This will be an agenda item for me post Election. I want to convene a business summit to gather innovative ideas e.g. rates holiday for a year for units changed to residential use; rates rebate for non-licenced establishments saying open late.
I equally look forward to working with Minister Attwood on implementing a Pilot Business Improvement District in South Belfast.