A failure to deliver six catalyst projects identified as having the potential to transform the fortunes of the North West will cost the community 10,875 new jobs and the economy £400m over the next decade-and-a-half, Derry City & Strabane District Council, heard this week.
Mr. Alfie Dallas, the council’s lead finance officer, issued the warning while briefing members of the local authority’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on progress on efforts to potentially secure a ‘City Deal’ for Derry and Strabane.
Councillors were told the council was in a strong position to proceed with its exploration of a local City or ‘Growth Deal’.
He said that the council’s recently completed Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan suggests that between now and 2032, it is possible to achieve an increase in jobs from 61,100 to 75,600 and an increase in population to 156,200, which will result in £500m additional Gross Value Added (GVA) - essentially a local form of GDP - and £100m in additional tax revenue and £200m in additional wages.
However, all of this is dependant on several key projects.
These are the A5 Western Transport Corridor, the A6 and the A2; the expansion of Ulster University and NWRC; transformative urban regeneration schemes in Strabane Town centre and along the riverfront in Derry; the delivery of a major iconic tourism attractor for the region; a North West Enterprise Zone; and the improvement of the skills-base among the local workforce.
“The need for local City Deals is clearly outlined in the terms of the UK government’s Confidence and Supply Agreement which affirms the government’s commitment to ‘working with the Executive and other stakeholders to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of city deals across N. Ireland to boost investment and help unlock the full potential of N. Ireland,” Mr Dallas told the Committee.
“If there is agreement today, council would seek to engage with government with a view to securing a ‘deal in principle’ by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in mid-November this year. Officers are developing on a summary Statement of Intent Document that will form the basis of discussion with government setting out the above investment priorities and their associated costs.”
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly, who, though not a member of the committee, has been a long-time advocate of a City Deal for Derry, said he was pleased with the positive progress.
He suggested the political establishment in the North had been “slow learners” when it came to City Deals, which have been in operation in Scotland and the North of England for some time.
Colr. Reilly said his party had been championing the concept at council, Assembly and Westminster level for years.
Sinn Féin Councillor Mickey Cooper said that while he was supportive of any efforts to improve the economic development of Derry, Strabane and Donegal any new deal should not come at the detriment of existing vehicles such as the North West Gateway Initiative (NWGI).
He also said a City Deal or Growth Deal must not be allowed to let the various administrations in Belfast, Dublin and London off the hook in terms of their outstanding commitments and pledges to the North West.
He referred to the Taoiseach, Mr. Leo Varadkar’s pledge of additional funds for the A5 during his Fine Gael leadership bid as a case in point.
In his report to the committee, Mr. Dallas pointed to the Tory/DUP Confidence and Supply Agreement’s statement that: “The UK Government is committed to working with the Executive and other stakeholders to work towards a comprehensive and ambitious set of City Deals across Northern Ireland to boost investment and help unlock the full potential of Northern Ireland. We will also work towards a limited number of Enterprise Zones, subject to proposals demonstrating value for money.”
DUP Alderman Drew Thomspon hinted that the £1 billion promised for the North under that agreement would soon be forthcoming, suggesting councillors and citizens “watch this space” over the next few weeks.
Members agreed to commence discussions on potential City Deal subject to full council approval.