The body tasked with orchestrating Derry’s transformation has been told to ‘up its game’ after it failing to spend £1m allocated to the city.
Ilex has been forced to return the money earmarked for the regeneration of Ebrington’s Parade Ground to the North’s Executive as it was not spent within the time frame for the 2010-11 tax year.
Local politicians criticised the body after the spending failure was reported at a meeting of the OFMDFM watchdog committee in Stormont on Wednesday.
Committee member Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson questioned the internal workings of Ilex, adding that “lessons need to be learned” by the body.
“This is not the first time that Ilex have recorded large underspends and I would have concerns about the kind of forward and strategic planning that is going on - or not going on - within that organisation. There have been a number of occasions when monies allocated to them have been returned because of slippages in the process.
“That isn’t good enough and it only plays into the hands of those who would rather see public funds allocated to anywhere but Derry.”
Ms Anderson added: “Ilex clearly needs to up its game. A huge amount of time and effort has been put into the regeneration process in this city and Ilex needs to take that forward in a competent and proactive manner.”
However, the Foyle assemblywoman said the money will “thankfully” not be lost to Derry, adding that she has been assured that an overall £5.4m – of which the £1m is a part - will still be available for the Ebrington works when it is required.
SDLP Derry councillor Mark H Durkan said the return of the capital spend cash was “very concerning”.
“One million pounds would go a long way to boosting the construction sector hit hard by the recession. Historically, Ilex has often given back sums of money, but never to this extent.”
He also raised concerns about Derry losing future capital money as a result of underspend. “There is a worry as to what affect this will have on future applications by Ilex. We need to make sure that this don’t happen in the future.”
Ilex Chief Executive Aideen McGinley confirmed that several unforeseen factors resulted in the underspend. “Due to the complexity of the procurement process and a range of associated legal issues, the start date was delayed, thus preventing the contract from being awarded within the original time frame. The delay was further exacerbated by the inclement weather conditions in December and January which resulted in further delays in excavation and site preparation.”
She further stated that “significant progress” is being made in the construction of Derry’s iconic Peace Bridge and the re-development of the Parade Ground.
“Phase One of the Parade Ground will be complete for the launch of the Peace Bridge in the last weekend of June and the completed Parade Ground will be launched later this year. Together, these projects represent a £20 million investment in the regeneration of the city,” she said.
Larger than Trafalgar Square, the Parade Ground is billed to be one of the largest public spaces in the island of Ireland when completed and to have the the capacity to hold audiences of up to 15,000.