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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 09:16 GMT
Integrated housing plan for city
Shops in Smithfield
Shops near Belfast's Castle Court centre are in the catchment area
Catholics and Protestants could live side by side in the heart of Belfast if ambitious plans are approved.

Integrated housing is part of a government blueprint to regenerate the North West Quarter of the city.

It includes the area bordered by Royal Avenue, Upper North Street, Millfield and Upper Donegall Street.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society said the proposals, which also look at culture and tourism, offered a chance to revive a neglected area.

The North West Quarter includes a mixture of residential areas, such as Brown's Square and Carrick Hill, as well as commercial buildings, colleges and Northern Ireland's Central Library.

Social Development Minister David Hanson said his department wanted to examine whether it was possible to achieve a mixture of new social and new private housing in the area.

Royal Avenue
The government wants to revive the area bordering Royal Avenue

"The consultants have identified housing, economy and enterprise, education, retail, tourism and cultural development, transport and urban design as key levers for taking forward the regeneration of the area," he said.

"Potentially, the most difficult of these is the further development of social housing.

"At present social housing in the area is characterised by the segregation of Catholic and Protestant communities. This situation isn't healthy for any city centre."

He said it would be a challenge to see if integrated housing could be achived in a way which "eases, rather than adds to, further polarisation of the community".

The area's close proximity to the shopping heart of Belfast could allow it to benefit from the city's rising prosperity.

Rita Harkin of the Ulster Architectual Heritage Society said: "It has enormous potential in one of the most historic parts of the city centre - North Street dating back to the 17th century.

"There's still some very good buildings there that we are keen to see being reused.

"We are particularly heartened, I think, by the message that residential will be playing a key role. In past years, it's really been retail development in the city centre. A mixture of uses I think is very exciting."

The consultation period on the report will last until 30 January, 2007, with the final masterplan expected by June 2007.

It will set out a framework on which to guide the future development of the area and link with work for other parts of the city including Crumlin Road Gaol.

Yvette Shapiro reports on the plans

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