Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 11:11 UK

Imagining a new vision of Belfast

Belfast city centre

How should Belfast look 10, 20 or even 50 years in the future?

That's the question facing the Forum for an Alternative Belfast, a new group which aims to create a new vision for the city.

Their first public meeting takes place in Belfast on Thursday, and includes architects, planners, students, writers, and anyone with an interest in the development of the city.

Founder and architect Mark Hackett said the Forum is to be "a think-tank and a do-tank".

"We feel there are a lot of vacant sites left close to the city centre, and we need to concentrate on rebuilding that centre and its connections to the wider communities where people live.

"You've still got a city centre which is pretty empty at night, and even with 15 years of boom we haven't solved problems like the Westlink - it divides the city from its city centre.

"We're talking about simple things.

"A city doesn't feel safe if you're walking past a vacant site, especially at night, and that's still the characterisation of much of Belfast city centre," he said.

The Forum has a number of short-term projects which they think could change aspects of the city.

• Give incentives to developers to redevelop Garfield Street in order to link North Street to Royal Avenue

• Redevelop North Street arcade to link Donegall Street to the city centre

• Take down the wall which cuts through Berry Street (beside Castlecourt) to link the square in front of Kelly's Cellars more openly to Royal Avenue

• Have a city centre-wide speed limit of 20mph

Martin Willey, the president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said the amount of building going on in Belfast was a clear demonstration of investors' confidence in the city.

"Clearly planning is about a whole series of things - it's about reconciling different interests and balancing people who might be opposed to development with those who need it, as well as providing a framework for public investment.

"The reform of the planning system should provide opportunities for a plan for Belfast which takes everybody with them."

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