Belfast is to pilot a Europe-funded 'Net Zero Neighbourhood' project, but questions are being asked about the initial suggestion for the location of the experiment.
At Belfast City Council ’s recent meeting of its City Growth and Regeneration Committee, elected members questioned the initial decision by council officers to trial streets in the Linen Quarter, with some arguing the city centre area is more of a business district than a neighbourhood.
The Linen Quarter, located behind Belfast City Hall and noted for its old red brick warehouses, stretches from the Grand Opera House at the bottom of Great Victoria Street to the bottom of the Ormeau Road, and was once the headquarters of Ireland’s global linen industry.
Belfast Council has been invited to participate in a funding application with Horizon Europe - the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation in tackling climate change, which has a budget of €95.5 billion. Belfast will receive €204,250 from the UP2030 (Urban Planning 2030) fund.
A council report states: “Through the UP2030 funding, we will seek to create a framework that will be applied to regeneration projects that integrates tree planting, green infrastructure, play and co-design with young people, and supports the integration of play and environmental sustainability into city design.
“To maintain alignment with the Bolder Vision interventions, it is proposed that the framework could be tested initially in the Linen Quarter district, which has the aspirations of becoming the first sustainable and net zero business neighbourhood in Northern Ireland.
"Lessons learned from this pilot will then be used to identify opportunities in other neighbourhoods and bring forward the concept of net-zero neighbourhoods across the city. The intention is to work across council departments and with city stakeholders to elevate and embed the learning and approaches.”
SInn Féin Councillor Áine McCabe said: “I welcome the ability for the council to take part in an initiative integrating environmental sustainability in urban development, and aligning that to the creation of a net zero neighbourhood.
“However I would have liked to see it piloted in a more residential area. You have Grosvenor Road and Carrick Hill just outside this area, and in a lot of these neighbourhoods the air quality is quite poor.
“They are close to the city centre, and given the reference in the report to key stakeholders being young people and families, and the references to playful streets, I think it would be best piloted in a residential area.” She asked council officers to return with other suggested locations for the pilot.
SInn Féin Councillor Ciaran Beattie said: “To my knowledge the Linen Quarter isn’t really a neighbourhood, it’s a business district, and it has received fairly heavy investment over the last decade.
“Looking at a net zero neighbourhood is something we should strive to do, not to look for an easy project within the city centre where there has already been heavy funding. It would be an unfair testbed, because there aren’t many homes around the Linen Quarter.
“This should be tested in some inner city neighbourhoods, that maybe have a boundary with the Westlink or the rest of the motorway, or somewhere that is heavily polluted. That way we will get a better judgement on how this will work.”
A council officer replied: “There is an opportunity to shape this. That was a proposal that was brought at early doors. If we can work on the basis of this as a proposal, more as a framework across any neighbourhood, I would suggest we can go away and look to see if there is an opportunity to look elsewhere. It is not location specific at this juncture.”
Green Councillor Mal O’Hara said: “My perspective is that since the Linen Quarter already has this ambition established, it is an easy testbed. In terms of community, look at the cynicism when they tried to put in a cycle lane on the Cavehill/Limestone Road - can you imagine trying to do that in one of our inner city neighbourhoods? Where we don’t have parking schemes, areas which are overflow car parks from the city centre?
“If we tried to create net zero neighbourhoods in these areas without doing huge groundwork in advance, those communities might reject it. I’m comfortable enough with the Linen Quarter going ahead, and I do believe it has a residential population.”
The council report adds: “Funding will be underwritten by the UK government rather than the EU and advice has been sought and confirmed with legal services in relation to this designation. It is anticipated that the final letter-of-offer will be signed in December with a project kick-off meeting of partners likely to take place in early 2023, with a delivery period of three years.”