The Market Tunnels Project has its origins in a needs analysis carried out in the Market Community in 2009 which identified a number of issues in the area in need of redress, particularly poor physical and mental health, childcare facilities and unemployment. As well as these social issues, the physical deprivation and disconnection of the area from the wider city centre were also causes of concern. The Tunnels Project was conceived as a way of addressing all of these issues through the innovative regeneration of a derelict space – the archways under East Bridge Street – which will create jobs, services and connection for the Market Community. The archways once acted as a seam linking the Market community to the wider industrial and commercial activities of the city centre; this project will see them reprise that role.
The Tunnels Project received planning permission from Belfast City Council in May 2015, and secured £2.6 million in funding from the Local Investment Fund at Belfast City Council and the Executive Offices Social Investment Fund. This will refurbish seven of the archways into business units, with the eighth serving as a pedestrian walkway. Among the business ideas residents have been developing for the project are a restaurant and social space, child care facility and fitness suite. While the Tunnels Project has secured planning permission, full funding and the residents have developed the businesses to the level where they are ready to commence trading, the Project has been stalled by the refusal of the property developer who owns the adjoining strip of land to the archways on Stewart Street to allow access for the work to commence. In response to this, the community launched the ‘Save the Market‘ campaign in 2017, which aims to fight for the rights of the people of the area, to ensure the community not only survives but thrives.