New drive to put people at heart of area plans

Derry City and Strabane District Council Chief Executive John Kelpie leading a Community and Planning Information sessions in Brooke Park Sports Centre in early 2015.
Derry City and Strabane District Council Chief Executive John Kelpie leading a Community and Planning Information sessions in Brooke Park Sports Centre in early 2015.

Derry & Strabane Council have unanimously voted for an immediate new public awareness campaign around a Community Plan aimed at helping local people to get involved in making decisions about investment and priorities in their areas.

The move follows in the wake of controversy surrounding recent public meetings to elect chairs for some of the wards within Derry.

Derry SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney tabled a motion at the Full Council’s July meeting called for the public awareness campaign “to increase engagement and attendance”.

Speaking to the motion, he said the massive project had the potential to transform local communities, but that this message was not getting through, and was being lost amid controversy surrounding the recent meetings.

He also accused local political factions of using recent public events around the Community Plan initiative to ‘power grab’.

Colr. Tierney called for a new awareness strategy including optimising the use of local papers, radio, social media and leaflets through doors. He also warned that meetings must be held at more suitable times to ensure everyone has the chance to attend.

People across the area care deeply about their own distinct communities within Derry and Strabane, he said: “Each community has different challenges and priorities, but one common theme connects them all - they all want progress and a better future. The Community Planning process provides an opportunity for this progress and better future. The process gives the various communities within this district the opportunity to raise issues that matter to them and to be involved in decision making about their future.”

Colr. Tierney said the draft plans devised to date were impressive, but warned that the word was not getting through. He said: “If each action point was delivered we would be living in a transformed society. Sadly, the level of engagement at public events has been less impressive. Communities have not engaged in the process and we need to address this immediately.”

Welcoming the motion, Independent Councillor Warren Robinson agreed that the Planning had not engaged much of the community, concerns also shared by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly.

Sinn Fein Councillor Kevin Campbell meanwhile said that the Council had done a “massive amount of work in community planning”.

“It is a very, very important issue affecting everyone in our community and further afield. It is absolutely vital everyone gets their heads down and supports it.”

UUP Councillor Hussey agreed, stating: “We need to get out beyond the usual suspects to the people on the ground.”

Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said the Council have been working to engage local people through a variety of platforms, including the press, social media, leaflets as well as work around scheduling meetings..

“That is not to say we shouldn’t revise that constantly,” he said, adding that council officers would “look at redoubling all of these efforts “ to maximise participation.