The Laganside Corporation Archive at PRONI
The Laganside Corporation (LAG/1-8) archive held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) comprises approximately 200 files, photographic material and recorded media. The archive spans from 1987-2007 with files from many aspects of the Laganside Corporation that reflect its diverse work and of its affiliates.
The types of records include minutes of meetings, annual reports, business plans, promotion material and specific files regarding the regeneration projects undertaken. This article not only describes the Laganside Corporation archive but also draws from a range of other PRONI archives that were involved in the Laganside Corporation's remit of urban regeneration for example, the Department of Environment (ENV), Local Authorities (LA) and Arts Council of Northern Ireland (AC). The Laganside Corporation archive may be considered invaluable for research of urban regeneration and Belfast's modern development and is outlined below.
In the beginning
In 1987, the Laganside Concept Plan was published. The plan considered methods of riverbank redevelopment, regeneration and environmental improvement. This was important as during the 1970s and 1980s, the area had become derelict as a result of changes in Belfast's employment structure e.g. the decline of shipbuilding. The dereliction was compounded by dumping of waste in the River Lagan. This had a detrimental effect on the river environment; life ceased to exist and the river at low-tide, emitted a foul smell.
In 1989 the non-departmental public body, the Laganside Corporation was officially created by the Laganside Development (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 to redevelop the waterfront area of the River Lagan. The aim of the Laganside Corporation was to create a space for living, lifestyle and commercial activities. Through the use of Government money, the Laganside Corporation enticed private companies to invest in employment, commercial and lifestyle projects in the riverbank area. PRONI holds the records relating to the creation of the Laganside Corporation including the Corporations' Memorandum and Articles of Association; COM/40/2/21027 (1987-1990).
The regeneration momentum
PRONI holds the Laganside Corporation Board Minutes from 1989 to 2004 (LAG/1/1/1-25) and Background Papers from 1987-2007 (LAG/1/3/1-4). These minutes and papers record how the Laganside Corporation created opportunities for regeneration and redevelopment then subsequently gained project funding. The Laganside Corporation Annual Reports (1989- 2007) are also available (LAG/2/1/1). These summarise the progression of riverbank and urban redevelopment, regeneration and environmental improvement.
To maintain its success in gaining project funding from private companies, the Laganside Corporation used a comprehensive marketing and promotion strategy. PRONI has examples of this strategy continuum from 1989 to 2007 and they can be found in LAG/2/4 (guides: 1991-2007), LAG/2/5 (promotional material: 1995-2007) and LAG/2/6 (information packs: 1990-2004). PRONI also holds newspaper & journal press cuttings of Laganside Corporation publicity events and projects in LAG/5/1 (1990- 1995).
In 1996 due to marketing and financial factors, the Laganside Corporation increased its responsibilities to include urban areas closer to the city centre, such as the area now known as the Cathedral Quarter. PRONI holds the correspondence records regarding the Cathedral Quarter from 1997 to 2004 (LAG/3/2/3-6).
The sweet smell of success
In 2004, the Laganside Corporation's first publicly acknowledged success was the Lagan Weir at Donegall Quay. This project was funded by the Laganside Corporation and European Commission and is considered to be the impetus which provided the high level of investment in the area.
The Lagan Weir allowed the tidal water level of the River Lagan to be kept artificially high (Plate 1: Lagan Weir at Donegall Quay, LAG/7/1/2).
This reduced the exposure of the polluted riverbank mudflats which caused a foul smell and reduce the unpleasant odour around the waterside area. PRONI holds correspondence records, including forum discussions of the Lagan Weir project (LAG/3/1: 1989- 2006) civil engineering records of the creation of the Lagan Weir (ENV/32/2/9-13 & 16: 1987-1991) and copies of newspaper cuttings relating to construction and development of the Lagan Weir in D1327/28/297 (1993-1995).
Plate 1: Lagan Weir at Donegall Quay, LAG/7/1/2
The success continues
Other successful developments included Lanyon Place, which sites the Waterfront Hall (nominated the best conference venue in Europe in 2002. Plate 2: Aerial image of Lanyon Place and the Waterfront Hall, LAG/7/ X/X). PRONI holds copies of newspaper cuttings relating to the development and construction of the Waterfront Hall (D1327/28/297; (1993-1995).
The Odyssey Leisure Complex (completed in 2001) which contains a concert hall, bowling alley, restaurants and a children's science park was funded by the Laganside Corporation's Millennium Project & Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and also Custom House Square, which is considered one of Northern Irelands best outdoor events venues and, the Gasworks Business Park.
The Gasworks Business Park is located half a mile from the city centre and covers an area of twelve hectares. Previously, the area sited the Ormeau Gas Works dating from the nineteenth century. During redevelopment, the Business Park retained some of the original Gasworks buildings including the clock tower and adjacent chimney. It includes businesses, shops, a hotel and enterprise workshops. PRONI holds records of these developments in LAG/3/2 (1986- 2005) and LAG/3/3 (1988-2006). Newspaper cuttings are held relating to the closure of the gas industry in Belfast and the development of the Gasworks Business Park in LA/7/19/1/K/4/22B (1987-1990) and LA/7/19/1/K/4/26 (1990).
Plate2: Aerial image of Lanyon Place and the Water front Hall, LAG/7/3/2
To create lifestyle space at the waterfront area, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) collaborated with the Laganside Corporation to produce works of art such as the 10m long, ceramic tiled "Big Fish" at the Donegal Quay (Plate 3: The "Big Fish" under construction, LAG/7/1/2) and the 15 m high "Ring of Thanksgiving" statue at Queen's Bridge. PRONI holds records on these artworks in LAG/3/3 (1988-2006). Correspondence, plans and feasibility studies that assisted in developing a strategy for potential works of art in the area are held in AC/4/2/24 (1988-1993).
A job well done
The Laganside Corporation ceased to exist in 2007 having reached its £1 billion investment target. The responsibilities of the Laganside Corporation were transferred to the Department for Social Development. During its lifespan, the Laganside Corporation won international recognition and acclaim for its successful achievement in creating a space for living, lifestyle and commercial activities not only at Belfast's waterfront area but also within the city centre. An example of this is the Victoria Square Shopping Centre which won the 2010 Royal Society of Ulster Architects Design Regeneration Award.
Throughout the time the Laganside Corporation existed, its development, regeneration projects and successes were recorded on media such as photographs, slides, video cassette, DVD and CD. PRONI holds these media records in LAG/7 (1980- 2007) and LAG/8 (1987-2006). The majority of these files are open and available to be viewed by members of the public. Currently, the Laganside Corporation Photographic Material (LAG/7) collection is closed for general viewing. However, requests for access may still be made in writing to PRONI.
The Laganside Corporation (LAG) archive is supported by other archives held at PRONI as described. Similar to the LAG archive, the majority of these files are open and available to view (for example, Local Authorities (LA) and Arts Council of Northern Ireland (AC) files). However, some files are closed for general viewing (for example, the Department of Environment (ENV) and Ulster Unionist Council (D1327) files).
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland