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With power must come budget: Council call for transfer of regeneration powers from Stormont

Main Street Markethill

An Alliance Party motion calling for the transfer of regeneration powers from Stormont to councils in Northern Ireland, has been backed by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

The motion was brought to March’s meeting of Council by Councillor Brian Pope and seconded by Councillor Eoin Tennyson.

The motion read: “In recognition of the consultation on Programme for Government, Investment Strategy and Budget, lobbying by NILGA and other stakeholders, we call on Council to write to The Executive Office and the Department for Communities for the transfer of full regeneration powers and associated resources to local authorities as a matter of priority.”

Following an amendment proposed by Councillor Liam Mackle and seconded by Councillor Paul Duffy it received the unanimous support of the chamber.

Introducing the motion, Councillor Pope said it was vital Council has the necessary powers and funding to support the rebuilding of the local economy.

“One of the key levers councils were promised to help them revitalise their boroughs is the power of regeneration,” he said.

“Place shaping has become a critical part of the recovery process, especially in an environment where our places will be different and there is a real need for local solutions.

“If Council had control over regeneration it could help plan for the longer term and consider all local towns, towns like Rathfriland, Markethill, Tandragee, Keady, Pontzypass and others could benefit.

“There is also the issue that capital schemes are currently awarded on an annual basis and there are limitations on the ability to carry over funds at year end. If Council had control over these budgets it would be able to plan for the long term and potentially lead to better outcomes.”

Seconding the motion, Councillor Tennyson said it would allow for a “holistic and joined up approach of our cities, towns and villages” and allow for the “local economy to be shaped by local voices”.

Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle said he was “generally supportive of the motion” but given the history of some “councils in the north” wanted safeguards in place and proposed an amendment to the motion.

The amendment reads: “…we call on Council to write to The Executive Office and the Department for Communities for the transfer of full regeneration powers and associated resources to local authorities as soon as an equality statement is agreed by all councils to ensure the principal of objective need is central to any future use of these powers or resources.”

This amendment was seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Paul Duffy.

DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter said he was “fairly content” with the motion but asked for some time to consider Councillor Mackle’s amendment as he had one of his own.

Councillor Pope then told the chamber he would accept the amendment as it “is really important this letter gets sent”.

Ulster Unionist group leader, Alderman Jim Speers said he had “no particular problem with the motion” and noted the he had brought a similar one to Council on January 30, 2017.

“It was not supported by everyone at the time but I always welcome people’s opportunity to change their minds,” said Alderman Speers.

His party colleague, Sam Nicholson said from both a “personal and professional perspective” giving Council the ability to put a medium term regeneration plan in place is “needed now more than ever” but warned the power must not come without the necessary finance.

Councillor Paul Berry said he fully supported the motion and agreed with Councillor Nicholson “we need to be abundantly clear that when we call for this, we must ensure the finance is in place”.

SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon also stressed the importance of the budget.

“There is no point in powers coming if they don’t give us the adequate resources in terms of the personal that would come with it but also financial resources to allow us to do these works,” he said.

Councillor Duffy asked if Council would have the space to house extra staff if the powers were to be transferred and was assured by Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson that once the detail is in place, Council would “work through that”.

Councillor Baxter then confirmed that his amendment was “not dissimilar” to Councillor Mackle’s and said he was happy to support the motion.

Thanking members for their support, Councillor Pope said he was of the belief Council had taken an “important decision that will resonate with other councils”.

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