The European Union has established a series of community initiatives to support measures designed to address and redress problems at the local level that have a particular impact at the European level. The Urban Community Initiative is directed towards finding and co-ordinating solutions to the series of socio-economics problems experienced by many urban areas. The initiative particularly encourages the use of innovative projects and the transfer of experience and expertise gained from the implementation of these programmes throughout a variety of European sites.
In recent years Belfast has experienced a downward spiral in employment due to a decline in the traditional clothing, textiles and engineering industries. Unemployment and, in particular, long-term unemployment, tends to be concentrated in a series of disadvantaged local government wards. These areas have also suffered most from the effects of the 25 year conflict. Compared to the EU and UK, as a whole, Northern Ireland exhibits a younger more rapidly growing population, a higher percentage of unemployment and a significantly lower per capita GDP figure. Particular social strata bear the brunt of this combination of social and economic activity resulting in low community morale among a number of inner-city locations in Northern Ireland, as well as a perception of alienation and exclusion.
There are also problems associated with the after effects of low educational achievements and the failure to acquire the information and skills necessary to access employment.
The European Commission approved a total of £14 million of combined European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund funding for the URBAN programme. Match funding will be provided by Making Belfast Work. The Belfast Sub-Programme was specified for two projects-One in the Shankill and the other in the Upper Springfield, both in Greater West Belfast. These areas, with different cultural traditions, are geographically adjacent and each of its populations have suffered extensively because of more than 25 years of conflict. Both areas have embarked upon a comprehensive process of developing long-term, area-based regeneration strategies, predicated on a partnership model, involving public, private and voluntary sectors. The analysis of key issues confronting both communities reveals that the socio-economic problems are most acutely felt by younger adults, and particularly by those women who are single parents. Both districts have planned projects which concentrate on educating and empowering young people. In the Shankill, parents with children in the 0-5 age bracket have been targeted.
The Urban Initiative in a unique and powerful mechanism for the financing of dynamic and innovative programme capable of addressing some of the problems of these cities. By choosing project options which have been developed at grass roots level and are owned by local partnerships it is hoped to kick-start the engine of revitalization desperately needed by these communities. The Urban Initiative will be the focus of a regeneration process with the mandate to energize these communities to such an extent that the momentum of transformation will continue to accelerate when the programme has ended.