Belfast City Council has made a call for “full regeneration powers” to be transferred from Stormont to local authorities.
At the recent full council meeting (Thursday July 1st) Alliance Councillor Peter McReynolds called for the council to write to the Stormont Executive Office and Department for Communities for the transfer of full regeneration powers and associated resources to local authorities “as a matter of priority.”
Councillor Peter McReynolds said: “I fully appreciate this is ambitious and is extremely unlikely to be progressed within the current assembly mandate, but it is something that has been discussed and promised for too many years in my opinion, and it is a real opportunity to deliver for local councils and communities around Northern Ireland and here in Belfast.”
The motion got cross party support from all but the DUP, whose party group leader Alderman George Dorrian said he had “yet to be convinced.”
Green Councillor Aine Groogan said: “I know one of the biggest frustrations people have with the council is that we have so little say in shaping how this city develops. It makes no sense that we have planning powers, but not regeneration powers alongside them, if we want to create a sustainable and inclusive city.”
The motion states: “The economic impact caused by Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on many of our businesses and it is essential the council has the necessary powers and funding to support the rebuilding of our local economy.
“The new councils formed in 2015 were designed to be larger and more powerful, and since then Belfast City Council has demonstrated its competence and capability, successfully undertaking planning and local economic development functions and delivering vital services.
“One of the key levers that councils were promised, and is now needed, is the power of regeneration. Place shaping is increasingly becoming a critical part of the recovery process, especially in an environment where places will be different and there is a need for local solutions. Obtaining control of regeneration powers will also complement the Local Development Plans and our community planning framework.”
The motion states letter will be sent to Stormont “as soon as an equality statement is agreed by all councils, to ensure the principle of objective need is central to any use of future powers or resources.”
Councillor McReynolds told elected representatives: “Members should hopefully be aware of this issue, given that it was meant to have been provided to us as a council following local government reform.
“However it was halted by the former Department of Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, opting not to progress his department’s regeneration bill in 2015, and former Communities Minister Paul Givan, who chose not to progress proposals in 2016, to the further surprise and anger of assembly members.”
He added: “What this motion seeks to do is throw Belfast’s support behind the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, and other councils in Northern Ireland, in restarting the conversations to transfer regeneration powers to where they should be – local government – alongside the required budget to effectively deliver this.
“We have a Communities Minister who knows a thing or two about the functioning of local governments, someone who is passionate about people and communities, as well as a city in need of regeneration after a global pandemic, and council staff who have been exemplary, and shown real skill and knowledge over the last year and half in how to deliver for communities at speed.
“In transferring powers from regional government to local government, we will see a more strategic delivery, greater long term planning, which is more difficult on an annual budget, and more engagement with groups on the ground to deliver what is best suited to those particular circumstances in that area.
“Crucially I think the point is our citizens, local groups and elected councillors are more aware of individual local issues and where investment should be targeted. Each locality has its own unique challenges and this motion seeks to recognise that.”
By: Michael Kenwood - Local Democracy Reporter