Concerns over funding time-frames as major NW projects advance
Concerns have been raised about the constraints put on UK funding for major projects which has led to a ‘lack of appetite’ by many in the community sector, it has been claimed.
At a meeting of Derry & Strabane Council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee, members agreed to endorse the progression of several project bids and approve the allocation of £50,000 to ensure the bids are robust and can be submitted within the relevant timelines.
The new UK Government’s Strategic Funds - the Community Renewal Fund, Levelling Up Fund and Community Ownership Fund - were launched on March 3, 2021. The Renewal Fund has a submission deadline of June 18, 2021 and an expenditure deadline of March 31, 2022. The Levelling Up Fund has a submission deadline of June 18, 2021 and an expenditure deadline of March 31, 2024, and, exceptionally, into 2024-25 for larger schemes, whilst the dates for the Community Ownership Fund are not yet known.
Three projects which meet the criteria for the Levelling Up fund locally are: The Brandywell Sports Centre/ Daisyfield upgrade which will include the provision of 7-a side AstroTurf facility and a sports centre with an estimated cost of £4.3m; St Columbs Park Green Infrastructure Master Plan with an estimated cost is in the region of £5-7m; a multi-sport pitch development (4G Astroturf) in the Strabane region worth £4-5m.
Sinn Féin Colr. Conor Heaney however said the British Government’s Prosperity Fund ‘will fall well short of the European funding it is designed to replace’. “Concern remains that it is going to be a very poor relation of what it’s replacing, “ he said. “The Community Renewal Fund has such a short time frame and the eight month window when you have to have this application in, spent and vouched for, done and dusted by March 31 next year is very difficult to deliver on. There’s concerns and I think there will be a lack of application and a lack of appetite from many in the community sector to access any of this fund, simply because of the constraints that are put around it.”
Colr. Heaney acknowledged that the Brandywell Sports Centre would be receiving money from the Levelling Up Fund. “Councillors in the Moor ward have been working hard on it for a while so I’m very grateful to see it included.”
Sinn Féin Colr. Michaela Boyle added her concerns about the time-frame and spoke of her ‘reluctance to shout for joy at this stage.’ “It is good to see the Rural Pitches Strabane identified as one of the projects going forward. There has been a deficit of rural pitches and training facilities in the Strabane area for a long time. Hopefully they will come to fruition and we can sing and dance about them in the end.”
Committee Chair UUP Alderman Derek Hussey referred to the short time frames and emphasised the need for ‘us as a Council to have shovel ready projects’. “I’m mindful of the Playboard report that was with us before Christmas and that identified 27 play parks across our Council area that are in a very poor state. Can they be brought forward as a major project?” he asked.
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said: “There has been an enormous amount of work to try and ascertain all of the parameters around the fairly complex funding opportunities. The key challenge is surrounding the time-frames. We do have a hugely extensive Capital Programme with hundreds of millions of capital projects being progressed across the Council at present. Those who are currently progressing have been discussed by previous Capital Working Groups and have been fully endorsed by Council. Sitting within those lists there are a significant number of projects which we as officers are seeking to advance up the chain to try and get them shovel ready. It is our objective always to try to advance as many projects as possible. We do have an enormous resourcing issues to try and take forward this scale of capital projects. There are challenging and difficult discussions ahead as to how we advance so many but one that is exciting and full of opportunity.”
By Gillian Anderson
Local Democracy Reporter