Signing of Belfast Regional City DealDec 16, 2021
The highly ambitious Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD), signed in December 2021, arrives at a critical time. The Deal represents a new way of working between central and local government and regional partners and secures a bespoke package of investment from central government and the BRCD partners of more than £850 million to support the delivery of our shared vision of:
“Inclusive economic growth that delivers more and better jobs, a positive impact on the most deprived communities and a balanced spread of benefits across the region”.
The substantial financial commitment, which will be further supplemented by the private sector, will generate up to 20,000 jobs as it is delivered over the next 10-15 years - an exciting, once in a generation opportunity to accelerate economic growth for the region in an inclusive and sustainable way.
This Deal will strengthen the region’s offer in growth sectors such as life and health sciences, the digital and creative industries, and advanced manufacturing. It will support next generation digital capabilities, boost tourism and support the regeneration of our region, underpinned by infrastructure developments and investment in skills to connect people to jobs and services.
The BRCD involves an integrated programme of investment that cuts across the responsibilities of local councils, the Northern Ireland Executive and UK Government. The BRCD partners comprises Belfast City Council, five partner councils, two universities and four of the region’s further education colleges.
- Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
- Ards and North Down Borough Council
- Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council
- Mid and East Antrim Borough Council
- Newry, Mourne and Down District Council
- Queen's University Belfast
- Ulster University
- Belfast Metropolitan College
- Northern Regional College
- South Eastern Regional College
- Southern Regional College
The BRCD partners have worked with the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to secure the Deal, with each government partner committing to invest £350m over the lifetime of the deal.
It is estimated that over the lifetime of the programme the BRCD will:
- support the creation of up to 20,000 jobs as part of the high growth ambitions for the region
- connect local people to the new and better jobs that are being created
- place the region at the top table of digital innovation
- deliver £400million in GVA directly on-site and within the Belfast region
- target delivery of almost £1billion of private sector leverage in addition to the funding contributions already identified across the City Deal
- create compelling world class visitor attractions, that will attract visitors from across the globe
- help to regenerate major towns and cities across the region
The ambitions for inclusive growth will be delivered through the following pillars of investment:
Innovation and Digital - Achieving world leading competitive advantage in key sectors: building our innovation and digital capability - facilitating invention, commercialisation and widespread adoption as a driver of economic prosperity and increased well-being
Tourism and Regeneration - Boosting tourism and regenerating our region – creating world-class visitor attractions and investing in towns and cities to provide a year-round destination that will provide stand out in international markets
Infrastructure – connecting people to opportunity and services through enhanced and sustainable infrastructure
Employability and Skills - Putting in place arrangements to enable a constant pipeline of talent to support the growth created by the BRCD investments and ensure that the right skills are available within the region to support the emerging job opportunities.
The BRCD partners will deliver upon its inclusive growth and sustainability commitments by:
- Ensuring our projects integrate and deliver upon these commitments into their design, development and delivery;
- Delivering the BRCD Employability & Skills Programme; and
- Using policy levers to integrate inclusive, sustainable growth, for example by integrating social value within procurement processes etc.
BRCD partners fully support other City/Growth Deals across in Northern Ireland and will work collaboratively to maximise the complementary of these investments.
Building our Digital and Innovation Capability
The Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) is a catalyst for a step change in the digital and innovation capabilities of our region. It will drive investment in research and development and help embed a culture of innovation to act as a driver for increased productivity. We’re focused on driving investment towards growing and resilient sectors such as health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing and digital and creative industries.
Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast have collaborated extensively to develop proposals for global centres of innovation excellence. Investments in innovation will be targeted to build upon the research strengths of our local universities, aligned to sectors that are demonstrating the potential for exceptional growth.
To read about our innovation projects, go to Belfast Region City Deal
Technological Innovation is one of the most powerful drivers of increased wealth and productivity as well as improved well-being. Our Digital Programme of Investment will play a critical role in contributing to economic inclusion and sustainable growth. In recognition of the pace of technological and societal change, a challenge-led, long-term, flexible Digital Programme has been developed which will maximise the parallel investments in the universities’ centres of excellence and together focus on those areas where the region can be distinctive and competitive.
The key interventions of the Digital Programme include:
- The Belfast Region Innovation Challenge Fund
- Enabling Infrastructure
- Regional Innovation hubs
Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology (CDHT)
The Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology (CDHT) will provide a world-class space for academia, industry and clinicians to innovate and boost the productivity of the life and health sciences sector by accelerating the development of medical technology devices and diagnostics. Technology, Community and Clinical Living Labs will be based beside the Ulster University Belfast campus and at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Studio Ulster (formerly Screen Media Innovation Lab (SMIL))
Studio Ulster will provide a large-scale Virtual Production studio complex to include world-class Virtual Production stages, fully supported by an integrated research, development and innovation centre of excellence in real-time VFX and Virtual Production. Studio Ulster will drive a revolution in production pipelines across converging sectors with application in film, broadcast, commercial, animation, games, immersive and visual effects.
Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC)
The Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) will provide the springboard for manufacturing innovation in NI, providing a specialised environment for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sectors to access the very latest manufacturing technology and Industry 4.0 smart automation, supported by experienced, professional engineers and a state-of-the-art Factory of the Future.
Global Innovation Institute (GII)
The Global Innovation Institute (GII) is a unique combination of expertise, combined with a ground-breaking partnership approach to delivering scalable computing solutions. GII is aiming to transform Northern Ireland’s digital economy by substantially increasing both the volume and range of digital innovation taking place within the region, and developing skill sets to meet industry needs, focusing on health and agri-food.
Institute for Research Excellence in Advanced Clinical Healthcare (iREACH)
The Institute for Research Excellence in Advanced Clinical Healthcare (iREACH) an integrated clinical research centre of excellence, iREACH is an NHS, industry, and research facility. It will transform the region’s ability to test new drugs, medical-technology, care pathways and societal interventions. It will leverage the opportunities that exist at the interface of medical research and digital transformation.
The Belfast Region Innovation Challenge Fund
£55 million fund will provide an agile funding environment to address the emerging needs and unique characteristics of the region and be designed to stimulate collaborative innovation and investment.
The fund will stimulate innovation to address the region’s ‘Grand Challenges’ of (i) artificial intelligence and data, (ii) health and wellbeing and (iii) sustainability and resilience.
Funding opportunities are likely to include a range of financial instruments including capital grants, small business research initiatives, challenge prizes and equity/debt investments.
£40 million of funding in enabling infrastructure will stimulate the conditions for innovation and business growth by targeting investment in digital connectivity (including advanced wireless), data infrastructure and other enabling infrastructure to support the Belfast Smart District and wider regional innovation.
- Regional Innovation Hubs
£30 million of investment will deliver a series of Innovation Hubs across the region. The Hubs will build upon and leverage existing sectoral strengths including cleantech and creative industries in order to promote innovation activity and new business growth across the region via local hubs.
- i4C Innovation Centre at St Patrick’s Barracks, Ballymena
The i4C Innovation Centre at St Patrick’s Barracks regeneration site, Ballymena, represents the first of these Hubs which will provide a physical base and support to increase levels of SME innovation and commercialisation activity. It will also provide skills and training solutions in the cleantech sector including the Hydrogen Training Academy.
· Boosting Tourism and Regenerating Our Region
Given the unique history, natural environment and cultural heritage of the BRCD region, there is a real opportunity for a further step change in the visitor offering, building upon the significant success already achieved in terms of tourism growth.
We want visitors to stay longer and spend more, supporting existing tourism and hospitality businesses, creating new opportunities and regenerating our towns and cities.
We plan to do this by creating internationally visible tourism products that will extend the tourist route from Hillsborough to Belfast through Carrickfergus towards the breathtaking Causeway Coast and Glens and along the County Down coast to the majestic Mourne Mountains.
Regenerating our town and city centres will enhance the region’s attractiveness as a destination. Reimagining our town and city centres into multifunctional business and social centres that encourage people to live, shop, work, use services and spend leisure time will help them to recover from the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic.
· Bangor Waterfront
Bangor Waterfront will reconnect the town with the sea through a range of attractions and experiences. The investment will provide high quality public spaces, a new Music Hub and will regenerate assets including Bangor Marina, Pickie Fun Park and watersports facilities at Ballyholme Yacht Club, enhancing the town and encouraging further investment.
· Belfast Stories
Belfast Stories, a transformational anchor visitor attraction in Belfast city centre, will allow people to connect with the city and one another through stories, screen and social spaces. The experience will include a state-of-the-art multi-screen film centre and vibrant public spaces allowing for lively event programming and animation.
· Destination Royal Hillsborough
Destination Royal Hillsborough will further enhance Hillsborough Castle by restoring and developing the historic Courthouse and Fort and investing in the Forest. This will include opening a Social Enterprise Café and integrating and improving connections between these attractions and the wider village through improved public realm, to attract more visitors to this world class heritage village
· Carrickfergus Regeneration
Carrickfergus Regeneration will provide investment in Carrickfergus Castle, including its visitor hub and historic walls. Its connection to the town centre will regenerate, reposition and rebrand the town, placing it firmly on the map as an authentic, heritage-led tourism hub - a 'must visit' starting point to the Causeway Coastal Route.
· The Gobbins Phase 2
The Gobbins Phase 2 aims to build on this exhilarating visitor attraction through the addition of a stunning staircase, an upgrade to the cliff top path - to include a new rope bridge that stretches across the coastline – and the development of a new Welcome Hub which will include Augmented Reality experiences.
· The Mourne Mountains Gateway
The Mourne Mountains Gateway will redefine visitors’ experience of the Mourne Mountains whilst supporting the sustainable growth of tourism and protecting the natural heritage and habitat of the region. The project will deliver a world class visitor attraction, and will create improved, and more sustainable access to the Mournes.
· Newry City Centre Regeneration
Newry City Centre Regeneration will deliver a civic hub, theatre and conferencing facilities which, together with new public realm and grade A office provision, will revitalise the city. The regeneration will also create and sustain jobs, increase visitor numbers, appeal to residents and stimulate the evening economy.
Connecting Our Region
For a region to be successful, modern and world class infrastructure needs to be in place. This enables economic growth, builds the connections to markets and opportunities and is a key consideration for inward investors. Investing in infrastructure is also important in delivering balanced economic growth and making sure the job opportunities that we create can be accessed by all communities.
Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge
The Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge will connect Belfast city centre with Ormeau Park, providing access to jobs, leisure space, services and opportunities for residents and visitors and contributing to the improved health and wellbeing of communities.
Newry Southern Relief Road
Newry Southern Relief Road will link the A1 bypass with the A2 Warrenpoint dual carriageway providing an alternative strategic route for traffic that reduces pressure on Newry city centre, facilitates onward travel to Dublin and improves access to other regional gateways.
Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) Phase 2
Belfast Rapid Transit Phase 2 –BRCDfunding will supportenabling investment forthe extension of thispublic transport networkwhich will support improvedaccess to health, education, leisureand job facilities and improve economicreturn across the region.
Employability and Skills
The BRCD investment will support efforts to rebalance our local economy by building on our competitive strengths, increasing productivity and supporting the creation of more and better jobs. However, for it to succeed it will be critical that the right skills are in place to enable people to avail of the opportunities arising from this investment and that pro-active measures are put in place so that the opportunities emerging reach as wide a range of people as possible - a fundamental aspect of City / Growth deals across the UK.
The BRCD partners will therefore work together to align our plans and resources in the following priority areas to help prepare an appropriately skilled workforce that can benefit from the employment opportunities that will emerge as a result of the transformative investments in innovation and digital, tourism, regeneration and infrastructure.
A strategic delivery framework has been created for the BRCD Employability and Skills Programme. It has been designed to address both the needs of individuals seeking to enter the workforce and those who recognise a need to upskill or reskill in order to continue to avail of opportunities within the labour market. The framework integrates a suite of interventions grouped across three thematic areas of:
Skills for Growth
Working with employers to align skills programmes and employment opportunities with the growth in sectors supported by BRCD; helping to create new apprenticeship pathways and fostering development of higher-level skills.
- inform the development of new skills pathways in priority sectors
- support the future proofing of the apprenticeship system to support new employment, including public sector opportunities
- support efforts to address skills imbalances specifically at mid-tier skills level
- deliver targeted approaches aligned to BRCD ambitions in priority sectors and support inclusive growth through our partners
Skills for Inclusion
Creating opportunities to address skills imbalances and improve access to employment opportunities across the region through socially inclusive progression pathways. Local Councils will undertake a leading role in delivering interventions on a local area basis, connecting local residents to entry level employment opportunities and addressing barriers to employment. Through collaboration with the Department for Communities, Local Councils will utilise the opportunity of Local Labour Market Partnerships working alongside BRCD partners, to ensure alignment with both local needs and Belfast Region priorities.
- create awareness and access to BRCD opportunities
- focus on supporting unemployed people (including those furthest from the labour market) to move closer to and into employment
- deliver employer-led approaches through employment academies and new programmes
- enable inclusive growth by stimulating employers to create new and innovative pathways into priority sectors
Skills for a Digital Future
Helping to build our digital literacy from grassroots up and enhancing the digital transformation of businesses across the region, with a specific focus upon smaller enterprises.
- inform and, through partners, deliver essential digital skills across the region
- support the City Deal ambitions of delivering digitally driven innovation
- support and advocate for a suite of provision to support essential digital skills and job specific digital skills
- facilitate inclusive growth by supporting the creation of employment pathways into the digital sector or into digitally focused occupations
- increase the pace and scale of digital transformation amongst the region’s small business community
· Digital Futures
The impact of Covid-19 further underlined the need to harness collective effort and investment in digital technology. Early in 2020, a Digital ‘Task and Finish’ group was established by the BRCD partners to consider how to support an inclusive and sustainable recovery. Arising from this work, Further Education Colleges, working with industry partners, and supported by funding from the Department for the Economy, delivered the Digital Futures Programme, an innovative skill development and work experience initiative providing unemployed and under employed graduates the opportunity to reskill in relevant digital skills, including Cloud Computing, Data Analytics or Cyber Security.