Numerous projects green-lit but concerns over Templemore Complex

Derry and Strabane’s Governance and Strategic Planning committee have approved over £1m towards projects including the regeneration of St. Columb’s Park and Brandywell/Daisyfield Sports Centre however concerns have been raised over the lack of progress on Templemore Sports Complex.

A capital investment report brought before the committee outlined that £1.03 to £1.45m investment will enable £7.3m of external Government funding to be leveraged representing a significant return on investment which UUP Alderman Ryan McCready described as ‘commendable’. 

Alderman Maurice Devenney agreed saying: “It’s great news to see that for every £1M we bring in £7M.

Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said the projects ‘truly are of enormous scale and ambition’. He also described it as ‘a challenging time, ambitious and exciting’.

Mr Kelpie spoke of the pressures the volume of ambitious projects were putting on staff, resulting in the need to recruit. He said: “We are finding pressures right across the organisation – from finance to legal to procurement to regeneration to planning to building control – all are struggling at the moment with the excesses of the ambition. We have the right processes in place, we have the right people and the right people of experience in place, we have some of the best and most experienced staff operating in our council in this field of expertise that any council has.”

Projects to get funding include Rural Strabane Pitches, the St. Columb’s Park Green Infrastructure Master Plan and Castlederg Recycling Provision.

Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle described the report as ‘very positive’. However, he turned his attention to the Templemore Sports Complex saying: “I don’t want to be Debbie Downer about it but the information that I got around Templemore Sports Complex is just not good enough. This project is starting to become a real sore for people who have waited for it for many years. This has now become a genuine public relations problem for the council because it comes down to the fact that people are seeing the smaller projects progressed and our larger more strategic projects not being progressed. We need to get a handle on this. I need to be able to go back to people and have more than, ‘it’s a funding issue’ as a response.”

Sinn Féin Colr. Sandra Duffy also spoke of her concerns for the Templemore complex project, however, she first welcomed the report. “We do have great ambitious plans,” said the Ballyarnett Councillor. “We have always been a council of growth and a council of delivery on the ground since the inception of the new council and that has to be really commended.

“We can’t underestimate the aspirations of our constituents and like Councillor Doyle, one of the main aspirations that comes to me regularly is around Templemore Sports Complex.

“We don’t want any more false dawns, we don’t want to raise expectations and then not deliver but we do need to see this project moving forward. It has been sitting on the capital list for far too long, we do need to be imaginative about how we can move that forward.”

Responding to the councillors, Chief Executive John Kelpie said: “Since establishment in 2015 we have delivered over £60M in Capital projects in the council area and that’s a range of strategic projects and community projects. We have another £53M fully funded and working their way through various stages of tender, design and construction phases. That’s almost £120M of projects so we do need to think about that. There is no other council across Northern Ireland that is delivering that scale of projects at this moment in time. On top of that we have hundreds of millions of pounds of other projects we aspire to deliver, that’s the scale of the challenge we face.

“With regards to Templemore Sports Complex, that of course is one of the most strategic projects, along with Strabane Leisure, two of the single biggest strategic projects we aspire to deliver. The reality is that both of those projects together will cost somewhere between £70M and £80M. We have a funding strategy developed that sets out how we might afford those projects. It now needs to be revised which we are doing following the passing of this report. 

“The key issue is we then need to agree which of these projects we will take forward over the next five year period. We can’t continue to try to take forward hundreds and hundreds of projects that we can’t afford or resource. We have taken the Templemore Sports Complex and Strabane Leisure project as far as we can at this stage. We have scoped the project, we have undertaken initial design, we have scoped what it might look like and what it might cost, the shape of it, the nature of it. To take it to the next stage, which is public consultation, we really do need to set out how we can afford it, how we can drive it forward.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter