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 at the eleventh hour the outgoing Minister responsible for the transfer of the power of Regeneration – DUP Minister Paul Givan –took 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 £2m per year – has been swept from under the feet of the 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, Ards and North Down 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.
With the election now over, I am calling on any new Executive to immediately repeal the decision not to pass on Regeneration Powers to Council.
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.”