Richard Osterhaus, Council Funding Manager said the fact that all three project bids submitted by the Council - the £4.2m Daisyfield Sports Hub, £6.4m Derg Active and £6.2m Acorn Farm at St Columb’s Park - have received the funding requested had been “a very successful outcome”.
He added that there are key issues to be worked through in terms of resourcing and other matters but given that the government letters stated keenness to ‘get delivery and spend under way quickly’ progress would be advanced ‘a.s.a.p.’.
In a letter from Neil O’Brien MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Derry & Strabane Council Chief Executive John Kelpie was informed: “You submitted a strong application, which performed well against our assessment criteria, and I was pleased to hear about the projects that you plan to deliver with this investment. I appreciate the hard work that went into the application and am very keen, as I am sure you are, to get delivery and spend under way quickly.
“My officials will shortly contact yours regarding the next steps for your application, including the completion of delivery, financial, monitoring & evaluation and risk register templates ahead of an inception meeting which will help us get delivery under way.”
UUP Alderman Ryan McCready congratulated Council staff for the mammoth task of getting the three applications ready and submitted in a very short time-frame. “That it’s a testament to the officers and those involved can’t be said enough. Just this morning I walked around Ebrington Square speaking with a wide range of occupants there and they are very keen and excited this is going to be happening right on their doorstep. Admittedly, the Acorn Farm on St Columb’s Park has piqued my interest and I’m looking forward to how it progresses.”
Sinn Féin Colr. Ruari McHugh said on behalf of his own party he wanted to also congratulate Council staff and the “great lengths” they went to get the applications ready. “It’s a very good news story with projects right across the city and district.” He said the Derg project had the potential to be transformative for the area.
Council is required to contribute 10% match funding contribution towards the total cost of each project and this overall total commitment of circa £1.6m has been earmarked in Council’s Capital Investment programme and budget.
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock said the success showed the importance of being ‘spade ready’ when such funding opportunities present themselves.
SDLP Colr. Rory Farrell questioned the potential financial risk given that one of the stipulations is that all projects need to be delivered and all costs incurred by March 2024.
“How confident are we that we have the team in place and the systems and procedures in place to ensure it is done on time and that we have no money to spend apart from the 10%?” he asked.
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said there was a ‘huge resource issue’ in terms of trying to deliver all Council’s ambitious capital projects, “It’s a good problem to have however we have a substantial hill to climb in terms of resourcing for the totality of our capital projects, not necessarily these three. Having said that where we have resource we need to direct it to projects that are fully funded.”
He added that a risk register to look at issues including time-frames will be drawn up for each of the projects.
Acorn Farm, St Columbs Park – £6.25m
This project will see the regeneration of the former Ministry of Defence site off St Columbs Park into an urban growing space (Acorn Farm) within the city, a new gate lodge with enhanced car parking. There will also be a wider environmental improvements to include play provision, enhanced biodiversity signage and landscaping. The focus will be to develop a high quality innovative urban food growing hub; learning and skills development centre (Green Skills Academy); sustainable food events venue; high quality sustainable visitor infrastructure and experience. The project is fairly well developed and approvals have been granted for various aspects.
Daisyfield Community Sports Hub – £4.2m
This project will see the regeneration of the Daisyfield pitches with the development of: a single storey sports centre with facilities for fitness classes, boxing, snooker and social area; six block changing room facility; upgrade to the existing natural 100m x 50 m grass pitch; a FIFA 1 Star synthetic multi use games area; and car park and associated supporting infrastructure.
Money previously ring-fenced by the Council towards for the Daisyfield project and which will now no longer be needed for this will be redirected, but given the Council needs to fund £1.6m towards the three projects, this and the ring-fenced funding “will almost cancel each other out,” said Council Chief Executive John Kelpie. Plans have been finalised and full planning has already been granted for this project.
Derg Active – £6.4m
The project is an integrated economic, health and well-being, social and environmental project focused on the rural town of Castlederg incorporating: high quality public realm scheme in the Diamond; upgraded pitched at Mitchel Park for local Gaelic and soccer teams; outdoor gym equipment; new play facility enhancing the heritage site at Castle Park; upgrade to event space at Castle Park; upgrades to outdoor events space at Castle Park; upgrades to Greenways connecting Castle Park and Castlederg town centre; and the creation of two parklets including one in the Diamond in the town centre. Design elements are still being worked out for this project.