Future of major projects in doubt amid funding ‘train wreck’

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Local Councillors have expressed outrage after it emerged that a budget for local projects has been slashed by almost £1m, while numerous major regeneration plans are also now in jeopardy.

One councillor on the new Derry City & Strabane District Council said the cuts to an already constrained allocation from the Department of Social Development were tantamount to a “double insult”.

The new supercouncil will take over a lot of the functions of the Department for Social Development (DSD) from April 1st 2016, and had been told earlier this year that this would involve a budget transfer of £7.149m for local projects, plus an extra £39,000 to cover finance, ICT, accommodation and other costs.

They have now been told however that this budget has been slashed to £6.221m.

The council will also be tasked to take forward 17 projects deemed of “vital significance to the region” including the Fort George remediation works, the Foyle Valley Masterplan and Strabane Town Centre Public Realm Works.

These projects are valued at £21.688m, but at present there is no money at all being transferred for capital projects.

At the council’s first ever committee meeting at the Guildhall on Tuesday, Lead Finance Officer Alfie Dallas said that funding for 91 projects, 156 full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs and associated works currently drawing down DSD funds would cost £7.164m next year, not taking into account the major projects.

Sinn Fein Councillor Brian McMahon said he now had “major concerns” over the impact the budget will have on large-scale and more localised projects and proposed that the council delegation seek a meeting to raise their concerns.

SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver said: “This is yet again one of those train wrecks we are receiving as part of the Review of Public Administration process.”

Colr. Diver said that promises have been made in the past and expectations raised among the public.

“We are being handed this impossible situation. It is a double insult- the reduced funds we were supposed to get is now even less.”

DUP Councillor David Ramsey concurred with the other councillors and said: “I wonder how much worse this is going to get?”.

He also compared the transfer to buying a business that is already in the red.

Independent Councillor Dee Quigley said he was “absolutely disgusted” that this may impact the council’s ability to deliver for the people of the city.

Colr. Quigley also seconded a proposal from Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly that local MLAs come into the council chamber and listen to the concerns so they can take these concerns to Stormont, with UUP Councillor Derek Hussey suggesting the six West Tyrone MLAs also be brought in to strengthen the argument.

Chief Executive of Derry & Strabane Council John Kelpie agreed with Committee Chair, Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin, that the council officers would look at the best vehicle for taking the concerns forward.

Mr Kelpie said he would write to the 12 MLAs in respect of a range of issues, adding that once a date for a meeting is secured, nominations can then be taken for elected members wishing to form part of the council delegation.

Mr Kelpie said the revised budget allocation “will put us in a very unfavourable position to say the least,” adding that it jeopardises the council putting forward any improvement schemes.

He added that the council has been fighting strongly against its shrinking allocation and has already led a number of deputations to the relevant ministers.