22 July 2005

South Belfast tops the poll for Invest NI hand-outs


By Joe Nawaz

South Belfast has come out tops in business investment hand-outs, it’s been revealed in a new report on funding distribution by Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI).

The Invest NI corporate plan shows that for the year 2003 – 2004, Invest NI made 268 offers of financial assistance to businesses in the South of the city, amounting to nearly £26 million.

This figure outstrips every other region in the North and means that South Belfast received a massive 21.9 per cent of the total of £117 million inwardly invested by Invest NI that year.

And it looks like the money will keep on coming, with planned future Invest NI investment for South Belfast tabled at 22.8 percent of total expenditure.
In contrast, the second highest beneficiary, East Belfast, received £15,781,520 and third-placed West Belfast just over £8 million.

Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast, Alex Maskey, said that the large figure was deceptive and did not represent the true amount invested in local regeneration.

“What we are seeing here is a large figure being quoted by Invest NI, but what amount of it is going towards social development?

“South Belfast has large areas of need as the recent government task force on the Village demonstrated. Places like the Markets, Donegall Pass and the lower Ormeau are badly in need of investment.”

He continued: “Part of the Invest NI remit is to address social need, but such a very small part of their budget goes towards that. If you look at other regions, which are getting even less than South Belfast, it means in whole that very little of the money will go where it is needed”

And the disparity with other regions is also worrying, added the former Lord Mayor. “There should be a ‘lift all boats’ policy of investment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alliance Party representative for South Belfast, Allan Leonard, welcomed Invest NI's revised Corporate Plan, and countered complaints by the SDLP and Sinn Féin that Invest NI were targeting too much money into South Belfast.

“Invest NI’s report is a recognition of what Northern Ireland plc needs to be for the 21st century: a globally competitive economy with the right types of exportable goods and services,” he said.

“The geography of the Lagan River, with rail links at Central Station, regeneration of the Gas Works, and continual development around the Waterfront area, is a natural attraction for new and expanding business.”

He added: “Invest NI funds individual projects by its merits, and the assets of South Belfast contribute to success. As residents, we should be encouraged by the confidence in our area.

“Meanwhile, this attraction is all the more reason to ensure good community relations by being good citizens to each other and respecting and valuing the diversity of our neighbourhoods.”

Glyn Roberts, spokesperson for the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed investment in South Belfast, but criticised the “disparity” of investment in other regions.

“We have nothing against investment in South Belfast, but the extent of the imbalance with other regions is alarming,” he said.

“I thought that the aim was to make a uniform economic improvement across the North, and these figures just don’t suggest that.”

A spokesperson for Invest NI attributed disproportionately large investment in South Belfast to the sums of money that the government agency had offered to high-profile, established businesses in the area.

Journalist:: Joe Nawaz

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