Public realm / environmental improvement

The Department has an important role in making our towns and cities look more attractive. We carry out work, which we call Public Realm and Environmental Improvement schemes, to improve public areas whether this is in neighbourhoods, along major roads or in town and city centres.

The purpose of public realm and environmental improvements

Improving the appearance of an area is not just to make people feel good when they visit, shop, work or live there - although that is very important. If an area has been upgraded and is attractive it will be healthier, safer and cleaner and therefore more people will want go there. It also means that businesses will be more likely to invest money, to build or to trade there, which improves the economy and creates jobs.

Vital and viable is the Department's good practice guide for breathing new life into cities and towns in Northern Ireland.

Types of public realm and environmental improvement work

The type of work that is done in an area will depend on what it needs and will be different from place to place. Our aim is to create high quality public spaces and footpaths to encourage better access for all people including those with mobility or sensory issues. The work also provides for seaside promenades, pleasant boulevards and squares that can be used for a range of public activities. This will create spaces where people from all communities can meet, relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Here are some typical examples of the work we do:

  • improving street lighting
  • widening footpaths for pedestrians
  • adding street furniture such as seating, bins and hanging basket stands
  • replacing paved walkways with new long-lasting surfaces
  • improving how the traffic flows
  • providing public art which reflects the history and personality of the area
  • planting trees, shrubs and flowers
  • creating or improving facilities such as multi-use games areas or play parks

Working with other organisations

The work we do will sometimes join with and add to larger schemes. These can be a mix of government and private sector schemes for example those currently being planned for Belfast, Bangor, Ballymena, Larne, Enniskillen, Strabane and Derry/Londonderry. We will work with other departments and statutory bodies including Transport NI and the 11 Councils.

Where this work is carried out

Public realm and environmental improvement schemes are carried out across Northern Ireland.  These are the main types of areas we develop:

  • town and city centres
  • places that have been selected as Neighbourhood Renewal areas
  • along main traffic routes into town and city centres and main roads that connect Neighbourhood Renewal areas to town and city centres

Improving Places projects

The Department has responsibility for a number of different projects that aim to improve places in order to bring about regeneration and lasting change to areas across Northern Ireland. These are some examples of the individual projects that we are in the process of delivering.

Belfast Streets Ahead Phase 3

Belfast: Streets Ahead is a programme which aims to renew the public streets and spaces in Belfast City Centre. This third phase concentrates on the area from Royal Avenue out to the new Ulster University campus at York Street. 

The Department for Communities has appointed McAdam Design Ltd to lead a multi disciplined team for the Belfast: Streets Ahead scheme to take forward plans to link the city centre to the Ulster University’s development. It will complement the works completed during the Belfast: Streets Ahead Phase 1, which upgraded and transformed 14 streets in the commercial and retail centre of Belfast, as well as the recently completed Bank Square Project.  

The Belfast: Streets Ahead Phase 3 scheme comprises Royal Avenue, York Street (from Royal Avenue to Frederick Street), Frederick Street, York Lane, Cathedral Gardens, Talbot Street, Exchange Street West and Academy Street, Curtis Street, Clarkes Lane, Great Patrick Street (part), Little Donegall Street (part) and Library Street (part).


The project covers an area of great change and regeneration through the range of projects both currently being implemented and those planned.

Throughout the area there are buildings of particular architectural quality that provide focal points along streets and it is adjacent to two distinctive public realm regeneration schemes; Belfast Streets Ahead Phase 1 and the Cathedral Quarter. Both these schemes have an influence on the material and design context for this project.

In addition, Cathedral Gardens has the potential to create a green anchor that draws people, connecting the North of the city with the centre via Donegall Place, Royal Avenue and York Street.


The project will create high quality public spaces and footpaths through the use of new natural stone paving, improved street furniture, improved street lighting, new urban trees, provision of public art, creating new a public space at Library Street/Little Donegall Street (to be known as Library Square) as well as improving and extending Cathedral Gardens.

View the Belfast: Streets Ahead Phase 3 gallery


For further information contact the Belfast: Streets Ahead team

Bank Square

In 2015 the Department completed a public realm improvement project within the South West Quarter of Belfast City Centre in the Bank Square area.


The focal point of the project was the redevelopment was Bank Square but the project also included the following areas:

  • Bank Street
  • Berry Street
  • Chapel Lane
  • King Street (between Castle Street and College Avenue)


The landscape concept for Bank Square drew upon the historic street pattern, important landmark buildings and vistas to create an enlivened and inclusive City Centre space. Although now long disappeared, the historic street pattern consisted of narrow streets that formed the route from the City Centre to Smithfield markets and the areas adjacent to the square are known for the 'Fadgies' who were Irish speaking street traders that sold fish.

This historic street pattern has been reflected in the hard landscape design which is defined by an extension of the natural granite stone paving materials used in the Belfast: Streets Ahead Phase 1 project, which upgraded and transformed 14 streets in the commercial and retail centre of Belfast.

Bank Square is now defined by a limestone paving that creates a distinctive character to Bank Square when compared to the hierarchy of public squares in Belfast.


The scheme incorporated the following key elements:

  • high quality natural stone granite paving treatments along the main footways
  • high quality natural stone Kilkenny blue limestone on Bank Square which has created a distinct space for events, markets and festivals
  • improved street lighting
  • bespoke feature lighting columns within Bank Square to create visual interest, enclosure, and enhanced illumination
  • modular living wall along the part of the Castle Court service yard to soften the area and to provide an aesthetically pleasing environment for users
  • mature trees complementary to the area
  • public art from Berry Street to Bank Square

View the Bank Square gallery


For further information contact the Belfast: Streets Ahead team

Contact details

Belfast Regeneration

Belfast Regeneration Directorate looks after development in Belfast City Centre and greater Belfast

North West Regeneration

The North West Development Office has responsibility for development in Derry/Londonderry, Strabane and Limavady, (Derry/Londonderry Office) Cookstown, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Magherafelt, Coalisland and Omagh (Omagh Office).

Regional Regeneration

The Regional Development office has responsibility for development outside Belfast and the North West.

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