As we approach the end of 2022, the Belfast Region City Deal partners are taking stock of progress achieved since the signing of NI’s first ever City Deal on December 15, 2021 by UK and NI Executive Ministers at ICC Belfast.

11 business cases have now been approved and funding is starting to flow through to projects to enable delivery.

The Belfast Region City Deal unlocks a decade of opportunity with £1 billion of transformative co-investment which will deliver more than 20 highly ambitious projects and programmes, create up to 20,000 new and better jobs and help make the region a global investment destination.

The Deal is strengthening the region’s offer in growth sectors such as life and health sciences, digital and creative industries and advanced manufacturing. It’s also supporting next generation digital capabilities, boosting tourism by creating world-class visitor experiences and enabling regeneration, underpinned by infrastructure developments and investment in skills to connect people to jobs and services, as well as creating significant opportunities for the construction sector through a substantial investment programme.

It’s really encouraging to see all the progress that’s been made in the last year on this once in a generation Belfast Region City Deal. And that’s thanks to unprecedented levels of collaboration from all the Belfast region partners. It’s been an amazing catalyst for us as anchor institutions to draw on our collective expertise, resources and influence and play confidently to our regional strengths. Together, we’ve secured a transformative level of investment in the sectors of our economy where we have the potential to become world leaders. We’re embedding a culture of innovation to act as a driver for increased productivity - and we’re spearheading a new way of public-private sector working which will make a positive difference to people’s lives here.

Our economy and communities have had significant challenges to face over the past couple of years, not least the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. This game changing investment will make a significant contribution to achieving the Department for the Economy’s 10X Economic Vision by giving our regional economy a much-needed boost and creating a host of new opportunities, so that we can really thrive and improve quality of life here. Despite all the current challenges, 2023 is shaping up to be a great year for City Deal delivery.

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Christina Black

Construction has started on the 57,000ft² Studio Ulster site at Giant’s Park. Developed by Ulster University in partnership with Belfast Harbour and supported by Northern Ireland Screen and £25.2 million of BRCD investment, Studio Ulster will be a world-class, large-scale virtual production studio complex with commercial stages, supported by an integrated R&D centre of excellence for real-time and virtual production. When it opens in 2024, Studio Ulster will strengthen NI’s status and offering as a prime filming location by offering a nexus of the region’s core strengths in film, broadcast, animation, games and immersive technologies in one central location and supporting 461 direct and indirect jobs in the screen sector.

More than £170 million has been confirmed in funding and design teams have appointed for the three Queen’s-led research centres - the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC), the Global Innovation Institute (GII) and the Institute of Research Excellence for Advanced Clinical Healthcare (iREACH). The centres in advanced manufacturing, clinical research, patient care and secure, connected digital technologies will build on areas where Queen’s has demonstrated research excellence; working with partners in public and private sectors to achieve world-leading competitive advantage in key sectors, solve real-world challenges and improve lives.

Queen’s University has launched a Strategic Technology Roadmap which identifies key priorities for the £98 million AMIC to improve NI’s distinctive strengths in advanced manufacturing and outlining how it can support the region’s large, world-class companies, as well as its agile, innovation-ready SMEs and formed an AMIC Industry Board with representation from over 20 leading companies. It has also appointed David Quinn as the new Executive Director for the £58 million Global Innovation Institute. Scheduled to open in 2025, GII will house more than 550 experts at its Titanic Quarter site in the Innovation District, including researchers already based at ECIT, as well as new posts and others who will be co-locating from a wide range of companies and external partners.

The strength of the Belfast Region City Deal partnership is also demonstrated through the partners’ work on employability and skills. The regional Further Education colleges are working collaboratively with six councils, two universities, various industry partners and government departments to ensure that the relevant skills and talent will be readily available for the jobs created through the Deal and to allow industry and the economy to flourish here. The first skills assessments for the planned City Deal investments are now reaching completion – ensuring that partners’ plans align with employers’ requirements in a rapidly changing work environment, as well as exploring new approaches to support the Deal’s ambitions for inclusive growth.

To maximise the Deal’s impact, social value criteria will be used in the award of all Belfast Region City Deal contracts and staff in all BRCD partner organisations have completed social value training to ensure that social and environmental benefits will be realised through the programme of investment.

The need for investment in our town and city centres has never been more important, and over the past year plans have also moved forward significantly for the regeneration of Bangor Waterfront, the historic town of Carrickfergus and Newry city centre, with a combined BRCD investment of more than £74 million approved. Work has also progressed on Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge, with work expected to commence on site in 2025.

Working with government departments, the BRCD partners have also advanced plans for the new 7,000 m² i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre, scheduled to open in Ballymena in 2027, as well as investments in world-class tourism experiences at Destination Royal Hillsborough, the Mourne Mountains Gateway and through the further development of the Gobbins at Islandmagee.

Public consultation also started on the £100m 4,000 m² Belfast Stories landmark visitor attraction in Belfast city centre. When it opens in 2028, Belfast Stories will restore one of the city’s most loved and unique heritage buildings, the art deco former Bank of Ireland building on Royal Avenue. The site will accommodate an immersive, interactive stories visitor experience, along with a state-of-the-art multi-screen centre, supported by vibrant public spaces to meet, eat, drink, shop, network, enjoy new cultural experiences and relax.