Addressing the challenges of city centre living
CIH Northern Ireland’s event ‘Living in the city’ is revisited by Justin Cartwright, CIH Northern Ireland policy and public affairs manager. The event featured a wide-ranging discussion on future housing options for our inner-urban areas.
Living in the city shared the strategies of public bodies in promoting city centre living and the quality use of urban spaces, and addressed some of the challenges to achieving a vibrant city centre with an increased residential population.
The event comes at a time when Belfast City Council’s preferred options paper (POP) – the document that outlines the council’s strategy to address the important issues for the city – is seeking to increase new residential development in the city centre.
One of the issues identified in the POP is the impact of the city centre’s low residential population on arterial roads into town, with more people commuting, and less vitality in the city centre. With fewer people, the city is a less effective and dynamic place which is not realising its full potential as a regional economic driver.
The council’s proposals to address this issue include:
- re-using existing buildings and bringing vacant space back into use, for example by converting commercial properties to residential use
- including residential accommodation as part of mixed-use development schemes, and
- using a mix of types and tenures.
The focus on tenure mix is welcome – city-centre regeneration should create areas that are accessible for a broad range of people in order to be socially sustainable. Social and affordable housing will play a vital role in ensuring this, but there are challenges.
Securing new social and affordable housing in Belfast is increasingly difficult. A requirement from the council for a percentage of homes in a development to be social and affordable housing would help to secure its provision in the city, as well as contributing towards the desired outcome of a tenure mix.
Social housing allocations are also very segregated on religious grounds, which goes against the desire of ensuring living in the city is an option for everyone. Piloting a new, shared allocations area or a shared social housing waiting list for the city centre would help to achieve this objective, while supporting existing development opportunities.
To achieve good, sustainable developments in the city, housing regeneration policy will need to work in tandem with infrastructure, education and finance policies to ensure quality design is realised and the needs and demands of new city centre households are met.Download the event notes from CIH Northern Ireland’s event – Living in the city: planning, design and services for urban spaces, and view the presentations from the event.