A DELEGATION of top politicians has been shown plans for the ambitious new Market Tunnels and taken on a tour of the eagerly anticipaetd regeneration project.

After 70 years of dereliction, the eight disused railway tunnels known as the Lanyon Tunnels,that run below East Bridge Street in Belfast will be developed to develop jobs and community services and reconnect the area with the city centre.

City Hall will provide £1.3 million while the Executive’s Social Investment Fund (SIF) is stumping up £1.3 million to allow the tunnels to be developed to provide two childcare facilities, units for commercial rental and a direct connection to the centre of town.

The Market Development Association (MDA) has been working on the project for a number of years. The MDA was established in 1995 to promote the wellbeing of residents of the Market area of South Belfast. Of 14 initiatives identified in their Market Regeneration Plan, the signature project was the regeneration of the Lanyon Tunnels with the potential to provide commercial and regeneration floor space.

Work is due to start on the project next summer.

Lord Mayor Brian Kingston and Junior Ministers Alastair Ross and Meagan Fearon spoke approvingly of the project after their visit to the district on Thursday.

South Belfast Councillor Deirdre Hargey, who showed the guests around, said: “The community wanted to get the Junior Ministers from the Executive office as well as the Mayor out to view the project, to show them the potential of it and to thank them for the investment into our community, which will improve the health and wellbeing as well as the socio-economic impact for residents living in the market.”

Junior Minister Fearon said: “The Executive’s £1.3 million investment in the Lanyon Tunnels will help regenerate this historically significant site, benefiting the area economically and socially. As well as employment opportunities and increasing community services, the project will importantly remove the physical barrier between the Market area and the city centre, improving mobility and access, and reconnecting the local community to the wider area. The Social Investment Fund is a strategically designed Executive initiative to achieve real, long-lasting social benefits for those who need it most, and local people and local needs are at the heart of it. Projects representing £76 million of the £80 million fund have either started or are operational and communities are really starting to benefit. It’s providing early intervention, education and employment opportunities to support and improve the future potential to those who need it most, as well as capital projects, such as the Lanyon Tunnels, to improve services in areas including health, employment and childcare.”

Junior Minister Ross added: “The regeneration of the Lanyon Tunnels provides a great opportunity to create a real change for the better in an area of social and economic disadvantage. This exciting project has the potential to create jobs and increase community services while preserving an important historic landmark.

“The Northern Ireland Executive has committed £80 million to the Social Investment Fund. The Lanyon Tunnels is one of 69 projects being delivered with the shared aim of improving the lives of people living in deprivation. Key to the success of the SIF is local people creating solutions. It supports communities to bring about positive change. This project is a community-led initiative designed to address local need and help make a better life for everyone in the area.”

Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said: “Belfast City Council are contributing £1.3 million to this project, this is bringing a wasted space back into community use. There is a certain appeal about these tunnels, we have seen them work successfully in other cities.

“They will provide a connection for the Market community into the city centre and Lanyon Place and will bring employment, it’s all very positive.

“It’s great to see derelict land being given a new lease of life to become utilised space and contribute to the community as well as the economy of the city and hopefully in time it will become a niche venue where people will come.”

He added: “There is also very good potential for an evening economy here depending on the long-term plans of the Market Development Association. There will be a long-term return from this investment and it will bring this part of the wider city centre area back into positive usage.”