EXCITING plans for the development of Belfast’s City Cemetery have taken a huge leap forward with substantial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a new innovation centre.

HLF has awarded £165,800 through its Parks for People programme towards the latest part of City Hall’s cemetery masterplan.

Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said: "The City Cemetery is one of Belfast's greatest hidden heritage assets. It is so exciting to see these ambitious plans take shape into a project that has the potential to be truly transformational.

“In addition to restoring and securing the built and natural heritage of the cemetery, the local community will be able to enjoy using this space and learning more about the history and heritage that is right on their doorstep."

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Steven Corr said the new centre will do much to exploit the tourist potential of the City Cemetery, a rich repository of local history and a stunning open space at the foot of the Belfast Hills.

“We are through to the last round of securing funding for an innovation, interpretation centre on site at the Cemetery and this will be a tourist centre located at the entrance,” he said.

“We want more tourists into the cemetery. So many come here during the Féile and with the weather on side we can really create something first class.

“We want to utilise the rich history of this city, we want to bring thousands of people in and employ people as tour guides. The City Cemetery is a cultural jewel in West Belfast and we need to shout about it a wee bit more. This funding reinforces our belief in it.”

Councillor Julie Anne Corr Johnston, Chair of Belfast City Council’s People and Communities Committee, added: “The City Cemetery is one of Belfast’s most important historical sites and I am delighted that this funding from HLF will allow us as a Council to do even more to ensure it achieves its full heritage potential.”