However, some councillors on the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee questioned whether council could have been ‘more ambitious’ in the bids submitted.
In the first round of the Levelling Up fund, all three bids submitted for the Daisyfield Community Sports Hub, St Columb’s Park Acorn Farm and Derg Active were successful securing £16.3 million to deliver the projects.
The £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund aims to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets.
The Round 2 prospectus was launched in March with council officers proposing to progress four project bids.
The first is Strabane Leisure Centre with a bid value of £23m. The new leisure centre will replace the current Riversdale Centre.
The Creggan Reservoir bid of £5m, if successful, will see the development and enhancement of the reservoir. Members were told the project would regenerate the dated infrastructure, enabling the site to be used as a regional visitor attraction.
The project will include the necessary critical health and safety works to the reservoir structure to ensure that a reservoir management arrangement is put into place as the lack of such an arrangement is currently inhibiting a number of key city centre/ riverfront proposed planning developments.
The magnitude of critical health and safety works required is currently a significant £1m financial pressure for Council and a successful levelling up fund proposal would not only significantly alleviate this pressure but leverage funding for a much more transformative project for the facility, Councillors were told.
In addition, a bid of around £5m was proposed to deliver one to two play parks in each of the District Electoral Area (DEA), and a bid of £5m would be used to expand the NW Greenways network throughout Derry City, Strabane and wider council area.
SDLP Councillor Sean Mooney described the proposals as ‘very sensible’, however, he wanted more information on the play parks and where they would be situated.
Questioning how council came to the decision about which projects were put forward, Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy said: “All the projects that are outlined for phase two are projects that have been on our capital projects list for quite some time.
“We do have an extensive capital list at the moment which has huge ambition right across the city and district.”
Stating that the bar had been ‘set incredibly high’ by the success of the first three projects, UUP Alderman Ryan McCready added: “Can we be more ambitious in terms of squeezing more of what is already on our list into this current one, notwithstanding the financial pressures and the 10% match funding we have?”
Describing the four projects proposed for phase two of the fund as ‘much needed’, DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney stated: “We hope lightning strikes twice. When we look at the last round we got £16m out of it so we hope we can return that back again for these four very worthwhile projects.”
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie told members a number of meetings were held across the various directorates and the capital projects list was ‘the first port of call’ when it came to choosing the projects.
Criteria for the Levelling Up fund were checked against that list to see if the projects could be met within the timeframes, could council deliver them within the timeframes and if they were significantly advanced that council would have the ability to do so.
He said: “Strabane Leisure Centre is right up there in terms of priorities and it falls within all of the criteria and it probably can be delivered within the time frame.
“In terms of play, every single member has mentioned play and it is a big imperative in terms of our capital projects list. So we have put down a number of play parks we think we can achieve during that period.
“We intend to bring a short list to Environment and Regeneration for members to consider based on need, based on the previous reports and also the geographical distribution across the area.
“With regards to the scale of our ambition. We were incredibly successful in round one and there is a school of thought which says we might not be as successful in round two.
“Personally we have debated this a lot as an officer team and we think we are being quite ambitious with the number of bids we are currently submitting. We don’t feel we should go further with other projects.”
Aontu Councillor Emmet Doyle spoke of the importance of moving Templemore Complex forward.
He said: “I understand we are now in a stepping stones process whereby if we are able to free up capital borrowing power from Strabane Leisure Centre plus get a good result with regards to the airport that we might be in a position to move the Templemore Sports Complex which I think is really important.”
The Chief Executive responded: “Yes, any additional funding that can be secured towards any of those strategic projects will enable us to more readily deliver.
“Templemore clearly is a massive strategic priority and is one we would hope to be in a position to move forward once the totality of that funding package can be secured.”
Lead finance officer, Alfie Dallas added: “The big thing we are trying to do is use council investment to try and lever as much external investment as we possibly can.
“If these bids are successful we would see it would free up council funds which we have there and redirecting those to other projects and that’s been our priority over the past number of years and it has worked pretty well for us. It will be a challenge for us with this fund but we believe we have very strong bids and we are optimistic of being successful.”
By Gillian Anderson
Local Democracy Reporter