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Developers's backlash after minister stops powers transfer to Northern Ireland

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 28/11/2016

Work together: Paul Givan
Work together: Paul Givan

Property developers hoping to plough millions of pounds into Northern Ireland have expressed disappointment and frustration that regeneration powers will not be devolved to councils.

The decision by the Communities Minister Paul Givan was widely criticised by political opponents but private investors, some with huge stakes in transforming Belfast city centre, have also thrown their weight behind the backlash.

Patrick O'Gorman, principal at Bywater Properties, which is responsible for a number of multi-million pound developments, said: "We are hugely disappointed.

"Belfast City Council are fantastic. They have been so helpful, positive and have great ideas, but they do not have the powers.

"If they do not have vesting powers then there's nothing much they can do to change the city.

"The council are the ones with the fantastic ideas, but without those powers they cannot deliver."

The London-based developer, whose firm is conducting a major transformation at Belfast's Donegall Place, also warned that regeneration of some areas could become stagnated. He added: "I do not understand the minister's reasons for doing this.

"Belfast should be seen as an area of opportunity, but it cannot grow without these powers.

"Belfast City Council is doing an exceptionally good job at promoting the city, but they have not got the powers to execute the promotion into real-life projects.

"And vesting is the number one power to change the city for the better."

Anthony Best, whose Lacuna Developments was behind the £16m John Bell House student accommodation in Belfast and other major projects, said there was a sense of frustration at the minister's move.

He said: "There is a general frustration in the private developer-world about the decision.

"If we go anywhere else in the regions within the UK it is the councils that we deal with on all fronts - whether that is for planning, regeneration or wider aspects which could be brought into a development for the benefit of the city and the scheme."

In his statement to the Assembly on Tuesday, Paul Givan insisted that local government would continue to play a major role in the implementation of regeneration programmes.

"The key message from the Executive is that we all, whether in central government, local government or outside of government, must ensure we work in a joined-up way.

"This is not the time to tinker with who is responsible for what, or to concern ourselves with the splitting up of the regeneration budget.

"Rather it is the time for all the stakeholders to work together to maximise our joint effect and achieve positive change in the issues that have bedevilled this society for too long."

Belfast Telegraph

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