MPs in the North were tonight urged to back radical £150m (€218m) plan to make Belfast one of Europe’s most vibrant cities by 2020.
SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell outlined to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee ambitious proposals aimed at easing traffic congestion and opening up land for housing and economic regeneration.
The 20/20 Vision strategy outlined by the South Belfast MP proposed:
:: The building of a bridge or tunnel through Belfast Lough from Fortwilliam in the north of the city to Knocknagoney in the east at a cost of £100m (€145m).
:: Connecting the Knock dual carriageway to the M1 motorway at a point between Dunmurry and Lisburn at a cost of £25 to £30m (€36m to €43m).
:: The continuation of the dual carriageway from the Monagh by-pass to Ligoniel to open up land for regeneration at a cost of £10 to £15m (€14m to €22m).
:: A light rail transport system, similar to the LUAS in Dublin, to encourage people to move away from using their cars in the city.
:: The redevelopment of land in the former shipyard in the east of the city and the north foreshore.
Dr McDonnell said: “Belfast is the first place people see when they visit Northern Ireland. It is our shop window.”
“We want it to be a place where people can live, work and play, a place that is accessible to all. We want a Belfast that projects confidence and markets its potential to the fullest.
“Belfast needs an infrastructure designed to divert through traffic away from the city centre and open up the more desolate areas of Belfast to housing and industry,” he said.
The SDLP deputy leader said the three routes he had identified had the potential to dramatically open up and change Belfast for the better.
Dr McDonnell said if the north east end of the Knock dual carriageway were continued by a bridge or tunnel built across Belfast harbour, it would not only relieve congestion.
“It would also bring the North and East of the city closer together and open up derelict land in the Harbour estate for development,” he argued.
The extension of the Monagh Bypass to Ligoniel would, he said, create a corridor to the north west of Belfast, opening up space for housing and job creation on both sides of the peaceline.
The SDLP deputy leader continued: “We have major challenges in developing available land in the city, particularly to the north and east.
“The North Foreshore and lands beyond the current Laganside Boundary hold massive potential for redevelopment.
“In the east we have vast lands available at the former shipyard. These lands must not be left derelict when there is the need for an estimated 60,000 housing units in Belfast city over the next 10 years.”
Dr McDonnell said a fully integrated and workable public transport system was also essential.
“Public transport must be sustainable, accessible and convenient,” he argued.
“A light rail transport system, such as Dublin’s Luas, offers an attractive alternative to the private car. To me it is the obvious choice for the future of Belfast and would fit into our vision of a fully integrated city.
“The system should serve all main arterial routes into and out of the city, including an orbital route to link them all.
“All of this will take time. This is a vision for the future generations of Belfast city. But if it is to work we must begin to put it in place now.”