Derry City & Strabane District Council Chief Executive, John Kelpie, remains sanguine about our chances of securing a City Deal despite British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond’s, failure to explicitly mention Derry in his Budget 2017,
Mr. Kelpie told members of the council that he felt Derry was still well-poised to benefit from what it’s believed would be a major jobs-boosting mechanism for the city.
Indeed, he revealed that the British Minister for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, who is responsible for the roll-out of City Deals across the UK is willing to come to Derry to discuss the council’s ambitions.
Mr. Kelpie was speaking after Mr. Hammond proposed that “upon restoration of a Northern Ireland Executive, the government will open negotiations for a city deal [sic] for Belfast as part of the government’s commitment to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals [sic] across Northern Ireland to boost investment and productivity”.
The Chancellor’s failure to baldly mention Derry, despite submissions made to the Government by DC&SDC in October that a reference to a City Deal for Derry in this year’s budget would be a “significant step forward” for the city, did not go down well.
But speaking at the council’s monthly meeting on Thursday, Mr. Kelpie said: “While we were certainly disappointed we were not specifically referred to in the statement by the Chancellor, I certainly did not hear the Chancellor state that Belfast would be the first City Deal.
“The statement said the Government would be working with Belfast in respect of the City Deal and other cities in Northern Ireland.”
During the meeting Colr. Paul Fleming expressed anger at the perceived snub but was also optimistic.
“From the people who brought us Brexit against the democratic wishes of the people here, we also had a situation with a Tory budget, in terms of Growth Deals and City Deals, with Belfast being specifically mentioned,” he said.
Colr. Fleming said he was confident the council’s ambitions would be realised with or without a City Deal and that it had its own comprehensive road map for economic and social development in its Strategic Growth Plan.
“He did mention other cities,” said Colr. Fleming. “I think we just need to be very, very clear from our point of view. We have a Strategic Growth Plan based on need that was extensively consulted upon with residents from one end of the constituency to the other. We will be going through with that growth plan.”
SDLP Colr. Martin Reilly said people were angry Derry was not being treated equally to other cities across the UK.
He proposed the Secretary of State for the North, James Brokenshire, be invited to the council to hear first hand about its growth proposals.
“We want to see a City Deal progressed as soon as possible. The best way in our mind to do that is to bring the Secretary of State to this chamber to meet with the Strategic Growth Partnership and to put the case to him directly for a City Deal.”
While Mr. Brokenshire’s openness to such an invitation is an unknown quantity, his colleague Mr. Javid is willing to visit the council
Mr. Kelpie revealed that on budget day a letter from the Communities and Local Government Minister arrived at Strand Road.
“I’m am encouraged to hear about the work that DC&SDC are doing to develop a draft statement of intent for a potential City Deal for the Derry/Londonderry region,” wrote Mr. Javid.
“I would be very happy to come to Derry/Lonodnerry to meet with you to try and achieve progress on the discussions,” added the British Local Government Minister.