Heads of Belfast city region business bodies and sectoral representative organisations gathered at Belfast City Hall this morning, Thursday February 29, for a briefing on the significant opportunities being created by the Belfast Region City Deal programme of investment – and how they can connect to, and benefit from them.

Addressing the assembled leaders, Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Ryan Murphy urged them to grasp the many opportunities on offer – and to seek to amplify them through their organisations and networks, to benefit both the local economy and people living here.

One opportunity on the immediate horizon is the Augment the City Challenge competition which is being led by Belfast City Council and supported by £930,000 of Belfast Region City Deal funding. The XR funding competition will support local SMEs to explore the role of immersive technologies in enhancing visitor experiences.

Speaking on behalf of the Belfast Region City Deal partners, Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Ryan Murphy, said: “We’ve made significant progress across all pillars of investment in just two years, moving the Belfast Region City Deal fully into delivery phase. This transformative programme of investment is creating valuable opportunities for our city and regional economy, with local businesses already awarded contracts to support delivery.

“We are also about to launch our Augment the City Challenge funding competition, providing the region’s SMEs with a unique opportunity to develop innovative proof of concepts and prototypes using immersive technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. The competition will also provide valuable insights to support organisations designing new visitor attractions including our landmark Belfast Stories and other City Deal projects such as The Gobbins, Destination Royal Hillsborough, and Carrickfergus Castle.”

First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "I believe that we have to be optimistic about our economic prospects. The City Deals really speak to that.

"This Deal alone has seen £1billion of government funding and partner and industry investment over the next 10 years which is going to lay the groundwork for up to 20,000 more and better paid jobs.

"This morning is about connecting you to the opportunities this City Deal offers. It is also about outlining a programme of investment that will support business and people here well into the next generation. It is about our future, our young people and about the decade of opportunity that is referenced in this City Deal."

The deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said: “City and Growth Deals are long-term initiatives, but it is important that we take time on that journey to celebrate wins, to learn lessons, and acknowledge the progress being made.

"We are global leaders in cybersecurity, FinTech, RegTech, life and health sciences, advanced manufacturing, the creative industries and low carbon technologies, but we can do so much more. Let's use this momentum to ensure City Deals are the catalyst for the kind of transformation we are capable of and deserve, supercharging investment opportunity, economic growth and tech innovation."

The Lord Caine, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said: “The UK Government is committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland continues to thrive and that it is a fantastic place to live, work and invest.

“That is why we are investing £617m for digital and innovation projects through the four City and Growth Deals, which cover the whole of Northern Ireland.

“The Belfast Region City Deal is the most advanced of the Northern Ireland deals which includes 19 projects in key growth sectors of infrastructure, tourism and regeneration and digital and innovation.

“I look forward to working with the newly restored Northern Ireland Executive, as well as the business and sector leaders attending here today, on harnessing the opportunities each of the City and Growth Deals will bring to Northern Ireland.”

View photos of the event here: Photo Gallery