Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) is on the verge of a significant social, economic and environmental transformation. The City and District has just reached the conclusion of a public consultation on its draft Strategic Growth Plan, or Community Plan, and the momentum for change has reached a new level.
The new statutory duty of Community Planning presents us with an exciting opportunity, involving a new partnership between all tiers of government, the community and voluntary sector, and business to improve the wellbeing of everyone. Derry and Strabane’s Community Plan – its Inclusive Strategic Growth Plan – is titled to reflect its primary focus – the growth and regeneration of the region.
The plan is presented following an intense co-design approach to consultation and engagement involving over 5,000 people, as well as a wide range of partners from the statutory, community and voluntary sectors. The strength of that partnership will be pivotal to its success, and while acknowledging that the City and District faces many challenges, responses to the draft plan have been extremely positive.
Chief Executive of DCSDC, John Kelpie, is confident that after a historic legacy of underinvestment in the region, this new pioneering power, which has brought community and statutory bodies together with an overarching shared purpose, has presented an opportunity for the North West to reinvent itself.
“There is no doubt the new Community Planning power which transferred to local councils in 2015 presented us with an exciting yet challenging task,” he admits. “It involved engaging as many people as possible in generating a deliverable strategic plan that will effectively transform the City and District.
“The logistics in mobilising this process and getting it to this stage required a dedicated effort, but one which has maintained its momentum. As lead agency in the process I feel Council has managed to successfully bring on board all the key stakeholders needed to drive that transformation. We were also equipped to build on the experiences that the region has in regeneration planning through the One Plan process in Derry City and the Community Regeneration Planning process in Strabane District.”
The plan takes into consideration the potential impacts of Brexit, and Mr Kelpie is confident that the unique positioning of the North West region on the frontier of Europe, with borders in both Britain and Ireland, can potentially yield opportunities and work to the Region’s advantage.
While the discussions are now intensifying behind the scenes between officials North and South and in Brussels, the council has been leading the way in the campaign to ensure a seamless border and minimal disruption to cross-border trade and investment. This work, in tandem with the Council’s Gateway to Growth strategy, delivered in conjunction with Donegal County Council, is geared towards strengthening the North West region as a whole.
To reach its targets the Growth Plan will require significant financial support – with £3.8 billion of capital expenditure and investment forecasted to fund all the projects outlined within the specified timeframe of 2032. But with the right support from government this investment will result in the region of 15,000 new jobs and £200 million of additional wages coming into the local economy each year.
Job creation is an essential driver of economic regeneration and it’s anticipated that these new jobs will bring the unemployment rate to 3.3 per cent by 2030 – the same as the projected Northern Ireland average – a first for the North West.
“For too long some of our negatives have been allowed to cast a shadow over the multitude of positives we have to offer,” Mr Kelpie stresses.
“The Strategic Growth Plan provides the opportunity to present a compelling vision for the City and District that I am confident we can realistically deliver by 2032. We have been working very closely with the Economic Policy Centre at Ulster University to provide the economic forecast for the plan. The forecast helps to fully identify the interdependencies which the plan relies on for successful delivery and provides a convincing business case for investment in key projects to drive inclusive growth and balanced regional development across Northern Ireland.”
Two years since the creation of Derry City and Strabane District Council, the organisation has identified and realised efficiencies of over £2 million per annum, which are being reinvested in the delivery of its significant capital aspirations and the roll-out of the Strategic Inclusive Growth Plan. “We are the only local council which has seen an increase in our rates base in 2015/2016 up 2 per cent. Since 2011 jobs here have increased by 6.3 per cent, and since 2013 we have seen a decrease in people claiming job seekers allowance of 39.6 per cent, so things are already moving in the right direction.”
Through ongoing cost-saving and a proactive campaign of lobbying government and driving both inward and foreign direct investment, Council is positive that a convincing investment proposition has been presented which will generate the resources required to sustain this growth and development.
“Taking into consideration the regional dynamics of the North West we will continue to promote the City and District based on its sub-regional status, and work closely with our partners in Donegal and our other neighbouring Council areas to enhance the wider economy in terms of business and tourism,” Mr Kelpie stresses.
The successful delivery of a number of key strategic projects is crucial to the achievement of the primary outcomes identified in this strategy for growth. These include the expansion of the Ulster University Magee campus, the upgrade of road and rail networks including the A5, A6 and the A2 Buncrana Road – the realisation of the economic potential of Fort George, development of Derry’s port and airport, and the development of the city’s regionally significant economic sites including Ebrington and Strabane Town Centre. While this portfolio will require substantial support in delivery, the return on this investment will greatly outweigh any initial financial commitment.
“We will continue to lobby government support in delivering these key economic drivers which will help transform our infrastructure and create the conditions for change.
“The Strategic Growth Plan is aspirational – but it is achievable and we have the evidence base to demonstrate a strong case for its success. According to forecasts, if implemented in full the plan has the potential to generate nearly £100 million in tax revenues, £9 million through rates. At the moment we have £45 million worth of capital projects on the ground demonstrating that we are already on the right track in terms of honouring our commitment to enhancing public service delivery. We have secured funding for a new Waterside Transport Hub, support for the next phase of expansion of our Catalyst Inc Science Park, as well as significant EU Interreg funding for a wide range of projects and programmes across the City and District. In terms of jobs and skills, we are working with our partners to create the labour force we need to drive inward investment, and the environment expected by foreign direct investors.
“We’re focusing on the four sectors which we believe will deliver our targets for jobs growth including creative industries, culture and tourism, digital industries and life and health sciences. And we’re already seeing the benefits with our tourism industry on the up, with our bed nights at a record high and a number of new hotels at various stages of planning.
“The Ulster University is progressing its business plan for a graduate entry medical school and this will have a major transformative role in Derry becoming a learning city with double the number of students attending Magee campus, all contributing to the local economy and building the city’s profile as a progressive educational base. This will be coupled with the expansion of the North West Regional College. The completion of these key catalyst projects are essential in successfully delivering the plan.
“From the outset the process has been about inclusivity and we recognise that the Growth Plan can only succeed if it engages all relevant partners – we have achieved a genuine shared will to progress. We now have the impetus to finally realise our potential as a City Region that is open and more than ready for business.”
Derry City and Strabane District Council
98 Strand Road Derry BT48 7NN