agendaNi examines the Executive’s commitments to the north west, including the promotion of 4,045 jobs.
The final Programme for Government has “several very tangible commitments to Derry,” deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said.
The three specific commitments in the Programme for Government relating to the north west are:
• to develop the One Plan for the regeneration of Derry incorporating Fort George and Ebrington barracks;
• to provide financial and other support across government to ensure the success of the Derry/Londonderry as City of Culture in 2013; and
• to upgrade the Coleraine to Derry railway line.
The Executive announced that it will provide up to £12.6 million for the City of Culture’s cultural programme from 2012-2013.
Ilex’s regeneration plan, called ‘One City One Plan One Voice’, stated that a North West regional science park will be created, consisting of 50,000 square feet of workspace at Fort George and 20,000 square feet at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. The park is to include “facilities for more established indigenous businesses or inward investment.” The programme commits to having the decontamination programme at Fort George completed during 2013-2014 (while the One Plan had scheduled it to be finished by quarter two of 2012-2013).
Junior Minister Martina Anderson has said that a final decision on that project (which is being processed by the Special EU Programmes Body) is expected in May.
The city’s second former military base, Ebrington, is to become a ‘creative hub’ aimed at stimulating start-up businesses. It will have a creative industries support programme for digital content, e-learning and computer gaming, according to the One Plan. The site is to avail of £23 million of capital funding from 2011 until 2015.
During the 2011-2012 financial year, £6 million has been spent on the development of the square. £6.5 million will be spent this financial year, £2 million in 2013-2014 and £4.4 million in 2014 and 2015.
Events at a new ‘performance plaza’ will include the 2013 Turner Prize exhibition and a ‘peace concert’ to mark the opening of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
Other regeneration projects in that plan include, a walking and cycling network, a lighting show and attracting new visitors to the city for the arrival of the Derry/Londonderry team, which is currently competing in the 11-month Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and will arrive in the city in July 2012.
The Programme for Government states that 1,175 jobs will be promoted by the end of 2013. From 2013 to 2014, it commits to seeing 1,670 jobs promoted. A further 1,200 jobs are to be promoted between 2014 and 2015.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office’s performance review of Invest NI estimated that 25 per cent of jobs promoted by the body are not created.
Visitor numbers to the city (165,700 in 2009) will be doubled, as will the average spend (£28.9 million in 2009).
The Coleraine to Derry railway line will be upgraded in two phases. Phase one (in 2013 and 2014) will entail re-laying the end sections at Coleraine and Derry and completing essential bridge works. Phase two (new signalling and passing loop) will take place in 2014 and 2015. This is to be done after the City of Culture celebrations because it will require closure of the line for approximately nine months.
The Economic Strategy also commits to “support the implementation of the ‘One Plan’ in the regeneration of the north west.”
Derry’s year as City of Culture will be integral in “showcas[ing] the region to visitors from across the world and change the global perceptions of [Northern Ireland] as a place to live, work, invest and visit,” it also states.
Belfast and Derry will be “key drivers of regional economic growth.” Having these two key drivers will ensure “improved linkages” within the province, as well as improved connectivity, “including on a North/South and east/west basis.”
The draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI) takes a similar stance. Belfast and Derry are described as “cosmopolitan European cities with lively shopping, fashionable new restaurants and exciting entertainment.” The city is “strongly positioned” as a cultural and digital hub. Its other strengths include a relatively young population and a university providing a vital flow of skilled labour to local and international investors.
While Ilex has appeared before the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee over £400,000 of unregulated spending, ISNI points to a number of successful projects it has undertaken.
The opening of the Peace Bridge in June 2011 is described as “part of a wider peace and reconciliation programme that proactively encourages greater levels of positive engagement between all communities living within the city.”
Refurbishment of Ebrington and siting the headquarters for the City of Culture Company on the site indicates “tangible progress” in preparations for 2013.
Other high profile restorations include the B2 listed building in the grounds of the Long Tower Church, the Guildhall, the city walls and cannons and St Columb’s Cathedral.