What to make of the Giant’s Park?
This post was written by Guest Blogger David Brunnen.
It’s been a long time in the making. It will take even longer still. It is nearly 300 years since Jonathan Swift looked up and saw the rocky profile of the giant that inspired Gulliver’s satirical travels.
A lot of water has flowed in and out of Belfast Lough in all those years. The City of Belfast has seen good times and bad. The shores have seen ships and shiploads come and go. More recently mountains of rubbish have added bulk to the vast acres of Giant’s Park as the city’s citizens and visitors rush past on the motorway skirting the harbour and linking Belfast’s two airports.
But what now should we make of this place? How should the good burghers of Belfast realize the potential of 340 acres of prime-location, city-connected, waterfront wasteland with a fine view of a rock that looks like a sleeping giant?
More than just a lot of space in an interesting place, we should first consider its natural assets. Built on generations of rubbish dumping it has already served citizens well. Its methane and deep heat can power energy generation to give any development a cost advantage.
The sludge of Belfast Lough may perhaps yield valuable minerals, or protect a cross-lough link to the digital hub that is Queens Island. The site’s slick road access could be supplemented by ferry traffic across the water to Holywood and the ‘Hollywood-be’ of Belfast’s international creative media campus. And more, there’s the glorious freedom to crack on with making something of it; a site wholly owned by the people of Belfast with no incumbent interests blocking progress.
But what sort of something? What do we really need? It is easier to say what is not needed. We surely don’t need another just-out-of-town retail park, or yet another island of dense housing, or more un-lettable office space, or more transport depots.
Locally, Belfast needs jobs – preferably well-paid jobs – but Northern Ireland needs much more than that. How could this location serve the health of our wider economy?
Should this site be in part devoted to the urgent transformation of our region’s agriculture – reversing years of decline by sparking new initiatives in the way we use our land?
The average age of Northern Ireland’s farmers is now 64. The average size of farms is 60 acres – 30% of the minimum level of current viability. Seven farms in every ten are now run as subsidy-qualifying part-time ventures with the ‘farmers’ main employment elsewhere. Is NI’s highest performing crop the EU farming subsidy harvest?
Will we see Northern Ireland as a European export leader in alternative energy and low-cost thermally efficient construction techniques?
We are already in this business in a small-scale but fragmented way. Whether its wind or wave or tidal power we not only have the brains to develop new solutions, we also have the natural resources to shift the island of Ireland away from high-cost power generation towards becoming a giant green battery to serve the digital dependence of the UK and other parts of Europe. And with NI’s new-found expertise in buildings that match Scandinavian levels of insulation and heat recovery we can further reduce energy waste.
Could a Giant’s Park commercial Eco-Campus become central to these green endeavours and generate hundreds of new jobs in the process?
Will we build links between the media magicians of Queens Island and the production craftsmanship of the northern shore?
Across the Lough the international creative media campus is already generating demand for all manner of crafts and trades. Why not develop the fabrication workshops at Giant’s Park for water-borne delivery direct to the studios? Four years ago this reality was a dream script awaiting realization.
Will it take us another four years to start exploiting the potential?
Will we exploit the acres of open space – with sports and other tourist facilities?
Acres of space, brilliant access and massive audiences nearby – what more could the region desire for a multi-sport arena destination that would place Belfast on the tourist map and raise our game?
Will we create a new and warmer recreational destination – Belfast-sur-Mer?
Stranger things have happened. Why no Centre Parc in NI? Look ahead to a climate-changed world where the health of citizens reflects the health of the economy – where the rain and gloom are (with a little help from inspired architects) banished in a home-grown giant-sized leisure facility reaching out beyond the water’s edge.
The space is vast – vastly bigger than Queen’s Island – with room for many ideas. Making the most of it requires vision, leadership, long-term perseverance and community engagement at all levels across all aspects of life. It requires citizens and city elders to stretch their imaginations – to see beyond the obvious and make the best possible.
In this vision-seeking challenge you will not be alone. Investors from around the world – particularly from Asia and Far East – designers from across Europe, home-grown academics, business people of every persuasion, folk of all colours and creeds, can inject ideas and create giant opportunities for a healthy future for the next generation.
As they say in Sweden, a country that really understands the need for an infrastructure to attract inward investment, “Idéer som överbrygger avstånd föds där de behöves som mest.”
Notes: This editorial is written by Groupe Intellex as a contribution to debate around possible uses for Giant’s Park Belfast (also known as the Northshore Development) and the development of a prospectus for international investors.