SOUTH BELFAST Councillor Deirdre Hargey has welcomed the announcement of funding for the Market Tunnels Project.

The eight disused railway arches, known as the Lanyon Tunnels, connect the Market area with Belfast Central Station, St George’s Market and Lanyon Place and are to be opened up and used as commercial properties and a base for community-oriented projects.

The Market representative said that delivery of the project will have a transformative effect on the Market area, enhancing links with the city centre and providing local employment opportunities.

£1.3m is to be made available for the development through the Stormont Executive’s Social Investment Fund.

Cllr Hargey said: “The announcement of funding for the Market Tunnels Project is welcome news and it will have a transformative effect, linking the Market area with the city centre. The flagship project of the Market Regeneration Plan will see over £1.3m invested to convert the old arches at East Bridge Street into business units including a gym, a childcare facility and social spaces bringing employment opportunities for the Market area and for Belfast as a whole.”

She added: “A lot of hard work has surrounded the development of this innovative and exciting project. It has borne fruit with the announcement by the Executive Office and I’d like to pay tribute to all those involved.”

Cllr Hargey said the project would not be happening without the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the process from the very beginning.

She went on: “I also want to thank the all those in the Market Development Association (MDA) and the committee throughout the years who had the foresight and dedication to see this project through, particularly Phil McDonnell as chair and also Kathleen McCarthy, Niall Houston and Fionntan Hargey, who assisted in the day to day work in preparing plans etcetera.

“Special thanks also to Alex Maskey and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who worked with me on this project and pushed for the funding at every level.”

A spokesperson for the MDA said: “We received great news this morning (Friday). After nearly a decade of hard work the Market Tunnels Project has finally been approved.

“It is a particularly poignant moment as we reflect on the legacy of our late friend Gerard Davison. Gerard put his heart and soul into the Tunnels Project and, where many others saw a dead space, Gerard had faith in his community and saw its potential. Today's news has brought us one step closer to his vision of a strong and rejuvenated community.

“We would like to thank the MDA committee, and Particularly MDA chairman Phil McDonnell, for their hard work and confidence in the project; Niall and Kathleen at the MDA for their patience and resolve, guaranteeing that the project stayed on course through difficult times; local Councillor Deirdre Hargey for her indefatigable advice and support throughout; and the entire Market community for their ongoing support and confidence in the good work of the MDA. Special thanks also to the Community Cohesion team at the Housing Executive, who instantly saw the potential of the project, Belfast City Council, Urban Innovations and the Strategic Investment Board.”