PUBLIC SECTOR: Belfast council boosts PR for local regeneration plan

Belfast City Council has hired external PR support to boost public awareness in the city's first locally devised area plan.

Following the Good Friday Agreement control of Northern Ireland's planning policy has been taken out of Westminster's hands and given back to local politicians for the first time in 30 years.

Although still not under council control, the handing over of the plan to Northern Ireland's Regional Assembly is seen as an important step in devolving power on major planning decisions.

The council, which started its public consultation last September, has hired Belfast-based agency GCAS PR to continue publicising the plan and urge local people to put forward their views.

The area plan, called Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan, includes the Greater Belfast area for the first time and will be the basis for planning policy in the area up to 2015.

GCAS managing director Lawrence Duffy said initiatives coming up during the next year include promoting the issue among schoolchildren, parents and the business community.

Duffy reports to the council's development department and works alongside the communications department.

He said: 'Everyone has a vested interest - the council wants as many views as possible for its submission to the Assembly.'

The council is expected to make its formal submission to the assembly next year. The plan has to be adopted as a working policy by 2005.

The council is already urging the assembly to approve commitment to social housing and commercial development as well as sustainable transport schemes including more bus lanes and cycle paths.

Belfast spokesman Mark Ashby said that PR work carried out so far has included presentations to the business community by regional development experts.

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