Belfast Telegraph

Derry and Strabane plan shows cautious ambition but fails to tackle housing crisis


By John Simpson

Derry City and Strabane District Council has published a draft community plan outlining the main features of a Strategic Growth Plan for 2017 to 2032.

The wide-ranging presentation co-ordinates the many features of an economic, social and environmental agenda in one document.

Selecting key catalytic projects for the area, the plan identifies:

- Expansion of the Ulster University at Magee Campus

- Completion of the A5 western transport corridor

- Delivery of the A6 Londonderry to Belfast road

- Upgrade of the A2 Buncrana Road.

Preparing a community plan is a requirement placed on each of the new 11 local government areas.

At one level these community plans should demonstrate to all sectors of the population how they can expect their lives in that community to improve and how the local council will contribute to those changes.

At another level these community plans offer coherent ideas on how the economy can improve, leading to better job prospects, more employment and higher living standards.

Critically, these plans should help influence the changing physical use of space, enhancing the environment, identifying space for housing, public services and roads in ways which guide planning decisions.

Given the complex demands on the community plans, there is always a danger that some features will distort the process.

The persuasive headlines will tend to be statements of overall ambition for employment and/or specific large investment projects, whether speculative or committed.

A tension between a careful realistic assessment of likely community developments in contrast to a forceful statement of excessive ambition is to be expected.

The Derry City and Strabane plan is useful because it errs on the side of cautious ambition.

In the next 15 years, it envisages improving living standards, 15,000 new jobs and a capital expenditure programme costing £3.8bn, of which £1.5bn would come from the private sector and £2.3bn from the public sector.

The statements underpinning the conclusions call for an extensive series of developments from a range of stakeholders, especially from across the public sector.

The council will act as co-ordinator and sometimes pressure group to try to bring all the related pieces of the jigsaw together.

Critically, the council must play an active role, necessarily criticising any failure of a public or private agency to deliver on its obligations.

The responsibility falling on the local council is an important new feature of the reshaped local government. The councils are now the planning authorities and must have a defining community plan.

The Strategic Growth Plan brings together important evidence affecting the plan.

It identifies concerns that the investment funding might not be available, and points to the expected contribution from the NI Programme for Government as well as ideas to attract greater private sector investment.

The plan also acknowledges that for job opportunities, the level of skills likely to be required means that, for the local potential employees, skills enhancement measures are needed, as well as a need to attract more people to move into the area.

The worrying impending influence of Brexit across the north-west of the island and its influence on cross-border commuting and shopping get particular mention.

The plan sets a comprehensive discussion agenda.

Converting the agenda and also gaining the co-operation of all the other agencies, including Stormont departments supplying key services, will be challenging.

In the draft agenda there is some surprise because of the absence of even tentative ideas on housing needs, the scope for new housing plans and some thoughts on the need for urban regeneration including its impact on housing and civic amenities.

This plan now awaits further refinement before final council endorsement. .

Belfast Telegraph