Belfast plans put focus on sustainable growth

Plans for development across Northern Ireland's main urban area, covering 40 per cent of its population, have been revealed.

The Belfast metropolitan area and transport plans, published together last week, bring together six local authorities with the aim of integrating their land-use and transport functions.

The plans make provision for 63,000 houses, with more than 70 per cent built on brownfield land. Around 1,800ha will be zoned for housing and 480ha for employment uses.

The plans also propose to designate 100 areas of townscape character, with curbs on development. Belfast will be promoted as the region's leading shopping centre, which could lead to out-of-town restrictions.

The £1.9 billion transport plan includes recommendations for a park-and-ride programme, 14 quality bus corridors, rail and highway improvements and enhanced walking and cycling provision to reduce reliance on cars.

The plans cover the city of Belfast and the districts of Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Castlereagh, Lisburn and North Down. Around 650,000 people live in the area.

Environment minister Angela Smith insisted that the plan is a major step forward in providing a development strategy for the region. "I have ensured that within the plan, sustainability underpins growth," she added.

Bill Morrison, a former chief planner for Belfast, welcomed the plans' strong focus on sustainability and their strategic approach.

"However, I do have reservations about the limits placed on the greenfield land made available," warned Morrison. "This may have serious consequences for the house building industry in Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular."

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