Ilex must step up to mark - quickly

Sir,

Eamonn McCann raises important issues about governance and performance at Ilex (his columns on 27 and 21 March).

Ilex is an urban regeneration company, modelled on similar operations that have worked well in England. I have visited several cities – Leicester, Reading, Lincoln, Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham and Nottingham – where there has been successful regeneration. I have been asked by clients (the East Midlands Development Agency, the Audit Commission and the Financial Times) to see what worked and why, writing case studies on the cities’ experiences.

In each of these cases, the cities have been transformed. They have become more attractive cities, with more jobs, more wealth and more optimism. It had been assumed that the same benefits would be felt in Derry, but the result has been disappointing by comparison.

Praise should be given to Ilex for the excellence of the Peace Bridge and the Ebrington Barracks’ regeneration and for its role in winning City of Culture, but this is nowhere near enough. It is true that Ilex has been caught between two different sponsoring departments and there have been delays because of the extent of public consultations, but these are not acceptable excuses.

In most of the English cities I visited, much of their success has been the result of positive interventions by the regeneration company, backed by their city council, that led to the expansion of the city centre retailing districts. This has reduced the attraction of out of town centres and pulled more shoppers into the city centres – for the benefit of all, including independent traders.

I believe that something similar could and should have been done here – perhaps at William Street, or Strand Road – to facilitate an ‘edge of town’ retailing centre. A large supermarket with car park might then boost city centre traders, not detract from them.

Failures in the way Ilex has spent its money should not lead to it being wound-up – I don’t believe that the city council is yet ready to take over Ilex’s responsibilities. But unless Ilex can step up to the mark very quickly, the verdict will be on what should have been, not on what has been achieved.

Yours,

Paul Gosling