The head of Derry & Strabane District Council has claimed an ambitious new draft plan has the power to transform the city’s economy and the lives of local people.
Council Chief Executive, Mr. John Kelpie, was speaking following the publication of a blueprint that will shape development here from now until 2032.
The Draft Strategic Growth Plan has involved an input from 750 organisations and over 5,000 experts and local people from all walks of life.
Mr Kelpie said it puts the north-west in a state of readiness for whenever funding is allocated for specific projects, or a wider City Deal or stimulus package is secured.
It details an ambitious plan of action to bring more jobs, develop the region’s infrastructure, natural assets and tourist potential, while ensuring improvements in the prosperity and well-being of all local people.
Mr Kelpie told councillors gathered at this week’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee that the proposals will, if implemented in full, result in up to 15,000 more jobs, unemployment being slashed and the already rising population in Derry and Strabane growing by another 10,000 people.
“We are in a new time of opportunity,” he maintained.
“This is not a council plan, it is co-designed and co-created by everyone who has been involved in it.
“In relation to making it happen, we are all too aware of the many plans that are sat on shelves and not delivered. We are all very clear that can’t happen in this case.”
Mr Kelpie said that in terms of building the economy, the expansion of Magee remained the central pillar.
Fort George and the Buncrana Road area were also deemed “absolutely critical” in terms of infrastructure, jobs and growth, alongside the A5 and A6 projects, while the feasibility of a third road bridge across the River Foyle and connecting the A5 and A6 would be looked at.
Major new leisure facilities at Templemore and a second in Strabane, will be the “single biggest strategic projects this council will deliver,” Mr Kelpie said, with over £50m of investment between them.
“Design teams are shortly to be appointed to advance these two facilities,” he said, adding that the Plan includes a new primary medical centre in Derry’s cityside.
Mr. Kelpie added that in terms of tourism, the formal joint bid with Belfast to become European Capital of Culture will be submitted this October, while other priorities included the development of the phase 2 of the Walled City Lighting Project, the Maritime Museum and examining the feasibility of a “major new iconic tourism facility” in Derry.
“This is not just a collection of projects, initiatives, thoughts and ideas. It’s carefully co-ordinated, built from the bottom up and top down,” said Mr Kelpie.
“At this moment in time the model indicates the with all of this delivered we will increase the population by 10,000 people, have 13,000 to 15,000 new jobs, £100m per annum additional tax revenue, £200m per annum wages and £400m gross value into the economy, and for the first time reduce unemployment levels to close to or below the NI average.”
The alternative, he said, was that the economy will “bump along and improve slightly,” whereas the plans set out “will have a transformative impact” on the prosperity of local people.
“There are, however, huge risks in relation to funding, inclusivity and Brexit” but added that these must be understood and mitigated against.
“There are considerable remaining challenges. We do have very, very considerable areas of deprivation as members of this council know only too well,” he added. “Inactivity and connectivity challenges remain. We are at the beginning of a new era.”
Mr. Kelpie said that there have been many positive developments locally over recent years, including an increase in job numbers from 50,469 in 2011 to 53,630 in 2015, alongside an escalated house building programme and a rates base increase of two per cent.
Sinn Fein Colr. Mickey Cooper said the plan was “holistic, strategic and costed,” and he agreed that the A2 Buncrana Road project was badly needed.
SDLP Councillor John Boyle said the creation of employment and opportunities for young people must remain central going forward.
DUP Colr. David Ramsey referenced the £1.5 billion deal secured as a result of his party’s pact with the Conservative Party and said that the timing of the proposals was “very good because of the extra money we have coming our way.
“Hopefully, the bid for a City Deal is now something we can definitely progress,” he maintained.
Mr. Kelpie said that the plans before the council were “the basis of a City Deal; a growth deal and a stimulus deal.”
The Plan will be consulted on until mid-September.