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Many cities in Europe and North America are rediscovering their waterfronts and Belfast is no exception. It is claimed that an urban renaissance has begun, under the direction of Laganside Corporation, the company responsible for producing the change. In the 1970s and 1980s, the area around the Lagan in the centre of Belfast had suffered from high unemployment, as the dockyards became more mechanised for example. The urban environment was dominated by derelict buildings and poor quality housing. The river itself was polluted and foul smelling at low water.Dry dock in Laganside

The Laganside Concept Plan, published in 1987, explored ways of improving the quality of the River Lagan and redeveloping areas alongside the river which had declined in economic importance. In 1989 the government formed the Laganside Corporation. They were set up to attempt to regenerate the Laganside area socially and economically. The area of inner city land for which they were given responsibility was on both banks of the Lagan. The first 140 hectare area for which they were responsible was extended to include the newly named Cathedral Quarter area which lies to the north of the City Centre. Laganside Corporation used government money as a catalyst to bring in money from private investors and encouraged investment in areas such as employment and recreation. In all £665 million has been invested in and close to the Laganside area since then.

Living and working beside the river has again become an established feature of Belfast. The River Lagan has been reinvented as a key attraction in a thriving city centre. Streets and buildings which 10 years ago were scenes of neglect and dereliction have been refurbished and new buildings and new public areas have been developed.

The Waterfront Hall, the Odyssey Centre and Lanyon Place have all been developed with great success. Much was learned from other similar initiatives, such as the London Docklands. Many local people in the docklands areas of London resented the changes that the London Docklands Development Corporation brought about. The Laganside Corporation have tried to work with local people and have kept them informed of the changes. This has apparently been successful in reducing resentment. Many of the redeveloped areas have mixed land use with expensive city centre apartments rubbing shoulders with businesses. For example, in Clarendon Dock (see photograph) offices such as Phoenix Natural Gas, Prudential Assurance Society and CCEA, mingle with expensive flats.

At May's Meadows, which was once where cattle and sheep grazed close to the markets, is now home to 140 apartments (including 48 housing units provided by a housing association for tenants who qualify for social housing). In the same site is a bar and restaurant complex, a Call Centre the Hilton Hotel and offices.

For more detail on Laganside go to www.laganside.com.

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