Fears have been expressed that further cuts to government funding for major regeneration projects in Derry may occur ahead of the new powers and budgets being transferred to the local authority.
Local councillors were told by Acting Director of the Department for Social Development, Pauline Campbell, that there could be “no guarantees” over grant funding.
Paul McNaught from the DSD’s North West Development Office, meanwhile, confirmed that the transfer of powers and funding for regeneration projects to the local council has been postponed until at least after the Assembly Election in May.
Mr. McNaught delivered a presentation at the March meeting of the Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee in the Guildhall.
The transfer of regeneration Powers from the Department for Social Development to Derry & Strabane Council was supposed to happen by April 1. However, Mr McNaught confirmed that this would now not happen. He said the transfer was designed to give the council more flexibility and a wider regeneration remit.
He said: “Over the last number of years we have worked very closely with councils to try and implement this. As you are probably aware this has been delayed.”
Mr. McNaught said there were various reasons for the deferral, with the failure to resolve outstanding issues to date having slowed the transfer process considerably.
He said that over the last five years alone, the DSD NW Office has pumped £12m into projects in Derry and Strabane, including the redevelopment of Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place, Bull Park, Bishop’s Field, Queen’s Quay, the renovation of the Guildhall itself and Foyle Arena. The DSD is also involved in a number of current and planned projects.
SDLP Councillor John Boyle welcomed the presentation but said that it was still unclear when the transfer of powers would happen.
“Considering how important the previous investments were, there are very real concerns about the future in relation to how the Council, with the transfer, will be able to deliver the very ambitious Capital Works that we have planned,” he said.
Colr. Boyle added that for a start, from an initial DSD budget forecast of £7.2m accompanying the transfer, this has been slashed to £6.2m, “and again, as referenced yourself, there are further cuts to come.”
“My concern is, what kind of final figure will we get?” he said, while suggesting that the way things are going, the Council could see a few more million slashed off its allocation.
Ms. Campbell confirmed that the Minister and the Executive was still fully committed to the transfer “because it is recognised that the decision making should be at a local level.” She added that she supposed the budget was reduced because the department’s own central budget was reduced.
“We can only pass on what we, as a department, have available to us,” she said.
She added that “at this minute” she could give no guarantee with regards to what the budget will be for Derry & Strabane Council, but said she would feed the concerns back.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher said the collaboration between the DSD department and the council has been “very, very good” to date and raised questions over whether the transfer should happen at all.
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie, however, said the Council has been very supportive of the transfer and “sees great advantage in that.”
He also heaped praise on the 40 DSD employees at the North West Development Office, stating: “From a Council Officer and Chief Executive perspective, the collaboration between the North West Development Office and Council is second to none.”