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Building Back Better - Belfast Region City Deal’s role in Levelling Up Northern Ireland

Professor Emma Flynn, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Queen's University Belfast discusses the common factors associated with effective economic growth and the role that Belfast Region City Deal plays in Levelling Up Northern Ireland

Recently, the Industrial Strategy Council released a report titled ‘What does it take to “level up” places?’ The report highlights four international examples; Estonia, San Antonio, Greater Lille, and the Ruhr region for their success in ‘Levelling Up’ through effective place-based interventions and explores what can be learnt from these regions.

Six common factors associated with effective economic growth policies were identified, those factors are: scale and longevity of investments, collaborations, being an attractive place to live, universities and innovation, transport and digital infrastructure, and skills and future sectors.

In examining each success factor in the context of Northern Ireland, one can clearly see how the convergence of each element is facilitated by the Belfast Region City Deal, (BRCD) a once in a generation opportunity to accelerate inclusive growth for Northern Ireland, making the region a destination for global investment through the creation of outstanding innovation and research facilities.


Scale and Longevity of Investments

The £850m BRCD will use public sector investment to stimulate private sector investment and to boost high growth sectors and is predicted to create up to 20,000 jobs over the next 15 to 20 years.

BRCD will deliver the necessary infrastructure and transformative projects that are designed to position the region as a globally competitive destination for digital and innovation investment, securing future prosperity and growth. This long-term vision provides a roadmap inclusive economic growth and gives indigenous and foreign businesses the confidence to invest in the region.



Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), and one of the world’s most important thinkers on innovation, writes extensively on how industrial strategy can bring together public and private actors in collaboration to combat the societal grand challenges we face in the 21st century. Such collaboration is at the very heart of the BRCD initiative.

BRCD represents an unprecedented collaborative approach with Queen’s University and Ulster University working alongside government, local authorities and industry partners to develop integrated projects in key sectors, such as Digital and Creative Industries, Advanced Manufacturing and Health.


Attractive place to live

Photography: Emma Flynn

Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland has undergone a striking transformation that has elevated its reputation as both an attractive national and global destination to visit, do business and live in, with Northern Ireland even ranking top as the ‘Happiest Place to Live in the UK’ in the 2020 Lloyds Bank Happiness Index.

Given the region’s unique history, picturesque natural surroundings and cultural heritage, BRCD can elevate the region’s growing reputation to achieve its full potential through a series of internationally visible tourism products such as:

  • Gateway to the Mournes, redefining the visitor destination experience associated with the Mourne Mountains and coastline, including new adventure based attractions
  • A world class heritage attraction at Hillsborough Castle and Hillsborough Village
  • The Game of Thrones Legacy Attraction at Moneyglass transforming the Winterfell Castle filmset into a unique visitor experience
  • Whitespots Regional Park, opening up access to Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula
  • Bangor Waterfront Regeneration


Universities and Innovation

Queen’s University and Ulster University are leading the development of the five Innovation projects that fall within the ‘Innovation and Digital’ strand of BRCD, designed to be the catalyst for investment in research and development in the region.

Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre - Future-focused Manufacturing

Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology - Co-created product development for societal benefit

Global Innovation Institute - Using data and technology to improve One Health: from Soil to Society

Institute of Research Excellence for Advanced Clinical Healthcare - A Crucible for Healthcare Innovation

Screen and Media Innovation Lab - Creatively led, technologically driven Research and Development

The innovation projects created by BRCD focus on the data-driven knowledge economy of the future through new open-source facilities for research and development. They will serve as a catalyst that will drive forward investment in research and development and help embed a culture of innovation to act as a driver for increased productivity.


Transport and digital infrastructure

Modernised transport links and utilities are necessary to service the increasing demands that regional economic growth will bring, and innovative projects such as Weaver’s Cross; a multi-million pound publicly funded transport hub in Belfast city centre, supports the BRCD agenda in attracting more people to live, work and play in the region.

The next generation of digital infrastructure in Northern Ireland will be defined by the digital partnerships, innovation networks, and digital testbeds that will be brought together by BRCD. 


Skills and Future sectors

Belfast has had the second fastest growing UK Knowledge Economy for five consecutive years, and is particularly well placed to target the development of the following growth sectors:

  • Financial, Business and Professional Services
  • Agri-Food
  • Digital and Creative Technologies
  • Advanced Manufacturing, Materials and Engineering
  • Life and Health Sciences
  • Tourism
  • Construction and Materials Handling

However, to sustain this progress and accelerate growth across all priority  sectors, investment is required in research and development, innovation and digital capabilities, new technology, skills and infrastructure. BRCD therefore proposes to invest £30m in a strong, complementary employability and skills package.

Queen’s University and Ulster University are working closely with the region’s Further Education Colleges to support employability and embed skills for the long-term benefit of the economy. This will involve measures such as establishing an Employability and Skills Partnership for the Belfast Region responsible for delivery of a transformative, inclusive employability and skills programme; a City Deal Apprenticeship Programme and a Digital Skills programme.

As we emerge from the impact of the global pandemic and take stock of the challenges left in its wake, we know that now, more than ever, Northern Ireland will need collaboration, innovation and financial investment for its societal and economic recovery.

As a leading partner in the BRCD, Queen's University is strongly placed to play a key role in that recovery, and we will continue to work with partners to deliver innovative projects that deliver positive and lasting impact on the economy.

Addressing Global Challenges

Excellence in research and innovation, and making a positive global impact, are central to what we do at Queen’s University Belfast. Find out more.

Photo: Professor Emma Flynn Professor Emma Flynn
Professor Emma Flynn joined Queen's in May 2019 as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise. A developmental and comparative psychologist, Professor Flynn is a leader in her research field, with multiple international and inter-disciplinary collaborations.
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