03/04/2008

East Belfast Set For £20m Development

A major regeneration project in east Belfast - expected to cost £20m overall - is set to involve a state-of-art facility which will house the long established East Belfast Mission's existing services such as its homeless hostel, employment programs, social and economic projects and elderly services.

East Belfast Mission had reason to celebrate as its 'core' landmark regeneration project received a £5.4m cash injection from the Department of Social Development.

According to the people behind the initiative, when the scheme — the Skainos Project — swings into action it will completely transform the Lower Newtownards Road where the current East Belfast Mission site is located.

The project, which has also received £3m from the International Fund for Ireland, is now awaiting news on whether they have been successful in securing the remainder £6.1m from the European Peace III Fund.

If successful, this project is expected to create an 'urban village' in the heart of inner east Belfast with plans including a mix of social and affordable housing, overlooking the 12,000sqm, four- storey flagship building.

Glenn Jordon, Project Director, said the scheme would breathe new life and services into a "much-in-need area".

He said: "Belfast Metropolitan College will also have six classrooms in the building to run educational programmes from literacy to IT courses.

"Age Concern will also being taking space which will allow around 30 elderly people a day to avail its services.

"There will be a new civic square for Belfast purposefully built into a new public square, a shared space unmarked by The Troubles in the area. It is making a statement of peace and reconciliation.

"This is a real tangible benefit of the peace process for Protestant, Catholic, loyalists and our new communities. It is also part of the Mission's long-term commitment to the area.

"As others have left the area, shut-up businesses in the area, we are saying to this deprived community we are in it for the long haul. It is part of a whole picture of raising confidence in the area.

"Now we are keeping our fingers crossed we get the rest of the £6.1m funding. We hope to hear any day now," he said.

Commenting, the Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said of the project - which is due to be opened in the spring of 2010: "The Skainos Project provides a significant opportunity to reinvigorate and revive this area. The ambitious proposals have the potential to alleviate the high levels of dereliction along what was historically one of Belfast's main shopping thoroughfares.

"I am confident that the delivery of this development will inspire confidence in both the local community and the private sector. Skainos and their various partners are to be congratulated on their innovative plans and I wish them every success as they move forward."

(BMcC)

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