Councillors raise concerns over guidance impact on Derry community sports facilities

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A Derry councillor has claimed young people in Derry will ‘pay the price’ following guidance issued by the Department for Communities following an extraordinary audit on Causeway Coast & Glens council.

The guidance was in relation to ’any interest in land or any disposal of land’.

The matter arose over a storage facility used by Trojans Football Club which Derry City and Strabane council previously provided. Following the removal of the unit after it fell into disrepair, council officers advised the club if they wished to have the facility replaced it would cost them £30 a week.

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Speaking about the importance of sport and Trojans Football Club, to areas like Creggan and young people who are marginalised, The Moor elected representative Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly felt young people and ‘working class clubs like Trojans’ were being penalised.

Sinn Féin Colr. Patricia Logue.Sinn Féin Colr. Patricia Logue.
Sinn Féin Colr. Patricia Logue.

The comments were made after the matter was raised by Sinn Féin councillor Patricia Logue.

“I have spoken to council officers and there is legal advice now regarding the use of council land for sporting lockup facilities,” she explained.

“This is a unique situation where Trojans had a facility at Bishop’s Field since early 1990s, it did go into a bad state of repair and the council originally supplied this lockup.

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“The council team then agreed that it should be removed and Trojans were advised it would be replaced within a matter of days.

Councillor Gary Donnelly.Councillor Gary Donnelly.
Councillor Gary Donnelly.

“They were subsequently advised a few weeks after that it would not be the case because of the audit that came out of Causeway Coast & Glens.

“I’ve had a quick look at the audit and I do think from what I can see there could be some movement the council could do given that this has been a situation, it’s not a new one and council have arrangements with other sporting clubs.”.

Agreeing, Aontu councillor Emmet Doyle commented: “This has been dealt with by council very badly.

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“The container they used, which we supplied, fell into disrepair to the extent that there were leaks that were damaging some of the kit.

Colr. Emmet Doyle.    Photo: George Sweeney. DER2133GS – 037Colr. Emmet Doyle.    Photo: George Sweeney. DER2133GS – 037
Colr. Emmet Doyle. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2133GS – 037

“Having engaged with the club over the past few weeks, the updated position is, which boggles my mind, the club can use some of the council facilities to store some of their equipment in Creggan as long as they pay for it.

“That to me, regardless of an audit, is crazy, there is no justification for it. What I was first told in terms of the audit, was that a decision was agreed within the Senior Leadership team which frankly should have been brought before members.

“We should be providing the facilities free to them. They were told if they wanted to get a new storage container they would basically pay £30 a week to do that and I think that is the wrong approach.”

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The Ballyarnett councillor brought forward a proposal calling for council to bring a report forward on the possible implications of audit action and that council ‘will provide Trojans with storage facilities free of charge for the rest of this council mandate.’

Clarifying the legal position, City solicitor Philip Kingston said. “This is a position that arises out of the special audit that was carried out for Causeway Coast and Glens Council. It deals with guidance which has been issued by DFC with regards to assets.

“The position is that it has been clarified by the Department and audit as well, is that councils, in terms of dealing with any interest in land or any disposal of land whatsoever, must, and can only be done so on foot of an authority from the council and at market value and if they do not do so at market value then they must seek the consent of DfC to do so at an undervalue.

“What the audit has made clear is that members cannot make that decision until such times as they have been provided with all of the necessary information by officers which allows them to make an informed decision in relation to the matter which includes an adequate valuation in respect of the matter as to the market value. That members is the confirmed legal position so far as the Department is concerned.”

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Mr Kingston went on to explain the ramifications for council in terms of dealing with matters such as this.

He added: “The consequences are primarily in relation to the length of time something like this can be done in because even in situations where is may seem the valuation is nominal and likely in situations where there is going to be absolutely no issue in relation to the matter being done with a nil consideration, we still have all of these hurdles and hoops to jump through and jump over in order to be able to go forward.

“It delays matters even in what seems very straightforward matters and puts us in extreme difficulty in matters where there is urgency attached to them.”

He also informed members that council officers are currently preparing a report on the consequences of the audit.

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Noting the City solicitor’s legal advice, SDLP councillor John Boyle called for officers to ‘expedite the matter’ describing the situation as ‘nonsensical’.

Councillor Doyle said he understood what the City solicitor was saying in terms of disposal of land.

He added: “Trojans have been offered the use of the changing rooms up at Creggan which they are happy enough with but they have been told it will be done at a cost.

“We are talking about a room within a facility we already own. Surely there is a difference with that? What I am suggesting is rooms that are within a building we already own should be given, without cost to Trojans for the foreseeable future.”

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Chief Executive, John Kelpie informed the hybrid chamber: “We will continue to liaise with the club to explain the situation and see what we can do to alleviate the situation in the meantime.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter