In a recent letter to the editor of the County Down Spectator I outlined the reasons why the transfer of Regeneration Powers to Council was so important, and why the DUP had failed residents of our Borough by placing Party before people. The letter was printed on January 5th. Here is the transcript.
When it was agreed to undertake the reform of Local Government in Northern Ireland reducing the 26 Councils to 11, it was understood that the three core powers of planning, economic development and economic regeneration would be transferred from regional to Local Government.
These, coupled with a statutory requirement for Local Government to engage with businesses and residents to determine our priorities, would form the basis of a Community Plan. Between us – residents, businesses and Council – we would create the Ards and North Down we want based on our priorities and our vision of the future. Working together we would create a place which we, our children and our children’s children can be proud to call home. A community that reflects our vision of being the best place in Northern Ireland to live, invest and visit.
With that in mind – and assuming that Stormont would act in good faith and transfer the three core powers as promised– the Council has realigned its resources in preparation for the arrival of the new powers. Planning has been transferred as has economic development.
However, it is with unfathomable arrogance that the present Minister responsible for the transfer of the power of Regeneration – DUP Minister Paul Givan – has at the eleventh hour taken it upon himself to decide against transferring these powers.
This incredible decision has thrown the 10 and 15 year plans for regeneration of our communities into turmoil as the money that was to transfer with the powers – up to £4m per year – has been swept from under the feet of your Council.
These plans have been developed as a result of a massive effort to identify the priorities for our five towns and 15 villages across the Borough and are outlined in dedicated and detailed Master Plans. Hundreds of hours have been invested by Council officials in the consultations with local businesses and residents in the development of these Master Plans with each of them being launched with great fanfare including Ministerial visits to many of our towns and villages.
So instead of being able to create a well thought through 10-15 year plan for completing the Master Plans, your Council now has to approach the Minister on an annual basis with cap in hand to request a few pounds in the hope that he might be good enough to support our projects as opposed to those from other Council areas.
At a recent meeting of the Economic and Regeneration Committee I called on the Council to write to the Minister to express our outrage at his decision in the ‘strongest possible terms’ to set down a marker that Ards and North Down wanted to take full responsibility for making the decisions that will affect our communities.
Despite vociferous arguments from the DUP who voted against my proposal, it was passed and as far as I was concerned, the letter was agreed.
Readers will understand my incredulity when the DUP popped up again at the recent Council meeting to demand an amendment to the proposal which would couch the words in much softer language and protect their Minister from our outrage.
One after another DUP Councillors rose to support the amendment and insist that it was much better that this power be retained at Ministerial level, with the inference that your Council does not have the ability to undertake this vital work. According to DUP Councillors it is better to allow the Minister to decide the priorities for Ards and North Down than it is for the residents, businesses and Council to do so.
Your readers should know that every Party in the Council Chamber with the exception of the DUP agreed with me and the Alliance group that the letter to the Minister would be sent as originally agreed leaving him in no doubt that we in Ards and North Down do not accept his decision to retain these powers and require that they be transferred to us and other Councils without further delay.
Could I now call on your readers who have an interest in the future of our Borough to contact their DUP Councillors to demand an explanation as to why they have put their Party before the people of Ards and North Down and require that they join with the Alliance Party and all other Councillors to call for these vital powers to be transferred.
It is for the people of Ards and North Down to decide how we want this place to look in the future – not unaccountable government officials or uninvested departmental Ministers.