​Brighter days on the horizon for Derry and the North West if opportunities can be grasped

The return of the Executive and the Assembly has brought with it renewed hope for the economic outlook in Northern Ireland as a whole and the North West region in particular. The appointment of Conor Murphy as Minister for the Economy and his subsequent committal to the prioritisation of the North West economy means that spring has brought hope.
Greg McCann, President of Derry Chamber of CommerceGreg McCann, President of Derry Chamber of Commerce
Greg McCann, President of Derry Chamber of Commerce

Economy Minister Conor Murphy has already visited the region in February and will in return in March as the keynote speaker of the Derry Chamber of Commerce’s Annual President’s Lunch. In his previous visit, the Minister stated that the north west region has “huge growth potential” and that he intends to see that potential realised. Key to such growth will be Ulster University’s Magee Campus, which the Minister also visited in February, reaffirming the commitment to expanding provision of university places at Magee to 10,000 students.

While having such attention paid to the region from the minister is of course to be welcomed, it is also heartening to see the North West being represented across other levels of government. The presence of three Foyle MLAs from three different parties on the Assembly’s Committee for the Economy – the DUP’s Gary Middleton, who also serves as deputy chair, Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Delargy, and the SDLP’s Sinéad McLaughlin – should ensure diverse local voices in economic planning at Stormont.

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While I used my last column to say that the public mood felt as if it was at an all-time low, there is now the possibility of real change, with the North West region set to be one of the main beneficiaries. The publication of Invest NI’s new action plan with its stated commitment to regional balance, including the strengthening of their subregional office in Derry, is both overdue and welcome.

Economy Minister Conor MurphyEconomy Minister Conor Murphy
Economy Minister Conor Murphy

We have heard utterances of balanced regional development before, but this time it feels like there is cause for optimism. Another positive is the appointment of John Healy as Chair of Invest NI, someone who is from and understands our region.

The news came this week that Derry City and Strabane District Council has endorsed £180 million worth of City Deal measures to revitalise the Riverfront and Walled City area, which includes the creation of a University Square public realm. This will encompass the development of new Ulster University Centres of Excellence, School of Medicine and the potential for the future university expansion. This welcome news also includes the announcement that the overall City Deal funding has been increased to £300 million.

The City Deal also includes the regeneration of Strabane town centre and the development of the North West Regional College campus. This along with the Riverfront and Walled City, must become a catalyst for further economic development and an enabler for additional private investment in our City. This is a good start, Derry needs further funding and importantly recognition by the executive that is the main regional City outside of Belfast and not just one of 11 councils if it is to grasp the opportunities that are now presented and delivery on what has long been promised.