It’s time to Deliver for Derry

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Much has been said about the Executive being empowered to set its own rate of Corporation Tax, to make the North more attractive to inward investors. Here in Derry, one might think that this will allow us to compete on level terms with the currently more attractive conditions in the South.

But, while a reduced rate of Corporation Tax will undoubtedly allow Invest NI to attract more companies, with top end jobs, that will not necessarily help Derry.

In fact, it may simply exacerbate our problems, because it will focus even more attention on the fact that we have a major skills gap.

While we can produce well-educated and skilled people, we also have a high percentage of young people who leave school without qualifications. As always, in an area of high unemployment and low expectation, Derry suffers from a ‘brain drain’, as too many of its brightest young people move away, and more often than not, do not return on a permanent basis.

That traffic is largely one-way, as we do not have enough places in third level education to attract more students from other areas, who might make their home and put their skills to use here, in Derry.

We can look to the past for the causes of many of our problems. Discrimination, for example, has left an unwanted legacy.

The roads infrastructure is totally inadequate, we do not have enough student places and, as the unnecessary row over the so-called ‘telehouse’ proved, the anger felt at the decision to locate the New University of Ulster in Coleraine can still erupt when there is a perception that political decisions are being taken to favour unionist areas. Our rail service is such that a cyclist can race a train to Belfast, and win.

But what must also be said is that Stormont has had enough time to prove that it is capable of delivering more for this area and that politicians from the North West - from all parties - have enough influence to ensure that more is done to tackle the problems that continue to see the region cast as an economic blackspot.

There are things that we need that we cannot deliver for ourselves and we must continue to demand delivery of those projects - like the A5, A6, improved railway system and expansion of Magee and North West Regional College.

These are our ambition projects - they are the platform on which the regeneration of Derry will be built.

We should expect more, too, in the delivery of other projects such as the development of Ebrington and Fort George.

Ilex was set up in 2003 with “a mission is to champion sustainable economic, physical and social transformation in Derry-Londonderry, particularly at Ebrington”. Its website boasts about Ebrington: “The 26-acre shared space offers an unprecedented opportunity for regeneration and investment.”

Since 2003 much has been achieved in terms of Ebrington’s physical transformation but 12 years on little has been achieved in terms of realizing the “unprecedented opportunity”.

There are leading business figures who would argue that Derry is not “development ready” because it does not offer sufficient business accommodation.

But while continuing to lobby for better infrastructure and delivery, there is also much that we can achieve ourselves and we must forge ahead with initiatives that create local investment and employment. Entrepreneurship, support for local business, and educational initiatives can do much to help develop a better sense of economic self-belief.

Digital Derry is also a work in progress that can offer many of our young people a brighter future.

The setting up of a sub-group by the Executive to examine the issues facing the North West is a welcome step. But it must just be the first step of many and we must walk quickly. Enough time has been wasted.

In many ways Derry is comparable to cities like Galway and Limerick. Galway is a historic town - but can it match our heritage, from St Columba to the present day?

Yet it is a vibrant city; it sells itself well, its streets are teeming with young people and seats are at a premium in its city centre cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s got students. Its got better roads. It’s got the benefits of a government’s balanced regional strategy.

That’s what is needed here - a focussed strategy that combines all elements to drive change and economic progress.

But unity of purpose is as essential as better
roads and the expansion of student provision if we are to succeed.

If our past can teach us anything, it is the truth of that old adage, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.

We now have the One Plan, we have the Executive sub-group and we have the energy. We have good education facilities. What we do not have are the ambition projects - the A5, A6 and expanded student provision - that governments have never delivered for us, so that people can live here, learn here and stay here. We have a single track road this side of the border to Dublin, and a less than adequate road to Belfast.

In the coming weeks, the Derry Journal will offer a platform for contributors to highlight what the North West needs, and how with the right infrastructure, we can begin to develop an economy that will provide better service to future generations than in the past. The old game of playing party politics must become a thing of the past; we need everyone working together to Deliver for Derry.

It is a challenge to those in power to deliver what the North West needs - and a challenge for us to deliver for ourselves.