A bright new future for vacant commercial land on the Springfield Road looks set to become a reality. As previously reported in the Andersonstown News, the Invest NI-owned land at the old Mackies site has been lying derelict for a number of years, attracting anti-social elements who have used the sprawling interface territory as a springboard for launching cross-community riots.

But thanks to Belfast City Council, a more optimistic future could lie ahead for the land.  Using money from its Investment Programme, the Council is set to purchase the site from Invest NI, paving the way for the hoped-for new Forthriver Innovation Centre to be established.

Once the purchase is complete, councillors will develop a brief for the plans that will be put out for tender before construction work can begin.

The Forthriver Innovation Centre plan is included as an emerging Council-led project in the Council’s £150m Investment Programme for 2012 to 2015. It is intended that this will complement the recent investment by Belfast Metropolitan College in their E3 campus at Springvale.  The campus – which was only handed over to Belfast Met at the beginning of April – is to be the base for the college’s project-based learning activity, involving students working with local businesses on company-based projects. In tandem, the students will be provided with entrepreneurship training and there will be facilities for students to work on their own business ideas.

It is intended that, should the students require additional space and facilities, they may then consider locating in the new innovation centre. This will help build a critical mass of new growth businesses in this location and will create a positive regeneration project at this site.

Jim McVeigh, Sinn Féin’s leader on Belfast City Council, has been to the forefront of the lobby to see the land developed.

“This is another important milestone in terms of the Investment Package,” he said.  “The site is in a prime location and there is plenty of potential for cross-community development and strong cross-community support.  We expect that the new centre will have the capacity to generate hundreds of jobs and over time that could develop into thousands of jobs. There is no reason why this site cannot in the future become a national innovation centre. We are moving in the right direction and we have taken a huge step forward.”