It has been an exciting few months for the North West in terms of progressing our plans for a stronger, better-connected and vibrant region.
Thanks to substantial groundwork carried out in conjunction with our strategic partners across the North West, significant progress has been made to date on a number of key catalyst projects outlined within the Strategic Growth Plan for Derry and Strabane – the blueprint for growth and development until 2032.
This positive momentum was further accelerated by the commitment given by the Chancellor for the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, in his Autumn budget statement for a City Deal bid for the Derry~Londonderry and Strabane City Region. The pledge heralds a new phase of development in 2019 as our plans pick up pace, and we add more dimension to the strong foundations of our bid, which have been so positively received by Central Government.
The Outline Bid Proposal was launched at a gala event in London’s Guildhall in September and has at its core the ambitious framework of the Strategic Growth Plan for Derry and Strabane, addressing our primary needs in terms of infrastructure, innovation and investment. Intensive work to complete the Strategic Outline Cases (SOC) for each of the key projects within the overall City Deal proposal is already well underway.
As we work through this process however, the real work continues in tandem with our bid, to deliver on the aspirations and objectives identified within our Strategic Growth Plan – the Community Planning strategy for the City and District. These clearly define our priorities in terms of initiating changes with the capacity to transform our area, from a local to a regional level. While the City Deal is one mechanism in achieving this long-term transformation, there are many other facets within our strategy for growth that have a key role.
These projects are currently being advanced, and while a City Deal will undoubtedly positively impact on their delivery, much headway has already been made since the Council published its Strategic Growth Plan in November 2017.
As we look towards November 2019 and the first statutory reporting deadline set out in our timeline for delivery, Council can be confident that since the adoption of the plan, the majority of the actions identified as priorities for Derry and Strabane have been progressing.
In the past year a business case for the development of a graduate entry Medical School and the subsequent overall expansion of the University of Ulster at Magee has been developed; consultant teams have been appointed to initiate the regeneration of Strabane Town Centre and Derry City Centre; business cases have been completed to support the regeneration of the Ebrington Square site; Fort George is currently undergoing remediation and soft market testing; work on the A6 Randlestown to Castledawson and Dungiven to Derry has commenced – as have works on the €30 million multi-modal transport hub in the Waterside – to name but a few of the projects now underway.
In terms of innovation – and particularly digital innovation – we have a strong portfolio of projects already in progress. These include the Cognitive Analytics Research Lab (CARL) at Ulster University and the Centre for Stratified Medicine at Altnagelvin, which are delivering ground breaking work and establishing the North West’s international reputation for research excellence. Work is also ongoing on the development of a detailed digital strategy as part of the city’s involvement in the Digital Cities Challenge, to deliver our vision of a service-driven smart city environment that is inclusive, transparent and sustainable, using existing and future datasets and technologies to support and improve the lives of citizens and businesses here.
As a council we are also committed to leading the way on the physical regeneration of Derry and Strabane and to creating the communities we all want to live in. Since the reform of local government in 2015 we have already embarked on an extensive and ambitious capital programme, and £130 million has been allocated for the development and delivery of a wide array of major capital projects. These are the parks, greenways, public realm projects and leisure facilities, which will transform our local community areas and have a positive impact on all our citizens.
Connectivity is a major focus of our plans, joining cities, communities and people across the country. Work is now underway on a Multi-modal Transport Hub in the Waterside that will provide a new gateway to the North West, encouraging a modal shift from car to public transport by providing integrated and convenient services and meeting local business, leisure and tourism needs.
Our greenway network also continues to expand, building links between Derry and Donegal and promoting active travel, supported by Transport NI (TNI), Donegal County Council (DCC) and SustransNI. These routes link Derry to Buncrana via Bridgend; Muff to Derry via Culmore; and Lifford to Strabane. Once completed, the scheme will result in a greenway network of approximately 126.5km in the North West, of which 76.5km will be classified as high-quality greenway.
As we create the infrastructure to facilitate international business, we continue to build on our international profile, strengthening international trade relations with Dalian City in China and Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Recent trade missions to the US and China have revealed a growing confidence in the region, enhanced by our ongoing work on building cross border connections and partnership working between north and south.
The North West Strategic Growth Partnership, led by DCSDC and Donegal County Council, and senior representatives from all Government departments from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, continues its focus on the economic, environmental and social regeneration of the region. This cross-jurisdictional working assists in the delivery of the Programme for Government, both north and south of the border, centring on job creation, growth and investment as well as attracting investment in tourism, rural connectivity and health.
Brexit is still an unknown quantity in the equation, but our unique position on the periphery of Europe, our successful collaborative approach to regional affairs with Donegal and our positioning within the UK, present potential opportunities which we are working to identify and capitalise on in terms of trade and investment.
There is much to be done, but as we embark on a New Year we do so with a renewed confidence that 2019 will be a year of opportunity for the North West. With the anticipated additional resources of a City Growth Deal, the ambition of our Strategic Growth Plan, and the strong partnership approach of Council and our partners, for the first time we can say that we have all the pieces of the jigsaw, and the strategy to finally put them into place.
Derry City and Strabane
98 Strand Road
Derry, BT48 7NN