ENVIRONMENT Minister Alex Attwood has praised Belfast City Council for its work to tackle derelict buildings.
The work has been made possible thanks to a grant of almost £500,000 from the Department of the Environment.
The council has invested a further £200,000 to tackle derelict and dilapidated buildings across the city.
The project is part of Belfast City Council`s city-wide Investment Programme which is committed to investing in neighbourhoods and enhancing local environments.
Minister Attwood visited two of the sites at Broadway and Lisburn Road along with Belfast councillors Pat McCarthy and Deirdre Hargey to see how the project is helping to transform local communities.
Alex Attwood said: “This project shows the best of civic leadership.
“We should do everything to make the city as attractive as possible for residents, tourists and consumers.
“If we want tourists to visit and stay longer, then tackling major eyesores and dereliction will certainly help.
“I commend the hard work and commitment shown by Belfast City Council which has received this financial package and who identified those derelict and dilapidated buildings in most need of help.
“The dereliction fund has been a dramatic success.
“From improvements in Portrush in time for the Irish Open in 2012; to improvements in Derry/Londonderry for the Year of Culture in 2013; improvements to 377 sites across nine councils in the north; and tackling dereliction in Fermanagh in advance of the G8.
“For moderate monies, we have seen big improvements. The scheme should be rolled out across all council areas. That is my ambition. That will be my argument for new money in June monitoring.
“Our built and natural heritage are essential elements of our economy and jobs. They will be the biggest part of future increases in tourist numbers and spend. Growing tourism from a £500m to a £1 billion-a-year industry will revolve around the positive protection and development of this heritage.”
Councillor Pat McCarthy, chairman of the council`s Health and Environmental Services Committee, added: “The number of these buildings has risen substantially in recent years due to the downturn in the economy and the collapse of the property market.
“The council has been working proactively in dealing with dereliction and has already invested substantial resources in addressing the problem in the last few years.
“Derelict and dilapidated buildings are a blight on communities, hinder regeneration and make the city unattractive.
“We welcome the Minister`s keen interest in this area and his assistance in supporting our work, and can assure him the money has been put to good use for the benefit of the city.”
Councillor Deirdre Hargey, chair of the council`s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, said the project was vital to regenerating communities.
“We have committed £75m to improving community facilities across Belfast through our Investment Programme.
“Removing eyesores and transforming derelict sites is essential for areas that are trying to attract investment and improve quality of life,” she added.
“This project is a success story for the city and, more importantly, it`s a success story for local residents who will be able to reap the benefits of these kinds of improvements in their area. It`s also a great example of partnership working.”
In the last year, council staff have surveyed 4,000 streets in Belfast and identified approximately 1,600 dilapidated buildings.
Currently the council is planning enforcement action against the owners of 250 of these buildings.
Twenty buildings across the city were identified as requiring urgent works and were prioritised for action which included demolition and cosmetic work.
Most of the work at these sites is now complete.