Bushmills Regeneration Programme, an Enterprise Zone Digital Innovation hub and a School of Veterinary Medicine at Ulster University are at the front of the queue to benefit from the government’s £72m Growth Deal fund, which was announced two years ago by Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the NI Executive agreed to match fund the UK Government’s Growth Deal allocation.
The Growth Deal capital fund will be used to support digital and innovation projects and in line with Growth Deal criteria, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has been told “it is critical to prioritise key catalyst projects over the next five to 10 years to help shape and grow the local economy”.
Councillors welcomed the news with DUP Alderman Sharon McKillop saying; “This is huge news for Bushmills in my DEA Causeway.
“I’m excited to see the rankings given to the long list of projects which in my view are all worthy, high impact projects.
“However, the priority number one ranking awarded to the Bushmills Regeneration Program has, not surprisingly, highlighted the issue of Bushmills tourism market failure which has been apparent for many years and the potential impact the Growth Deal will have on the economic growth, productivity, employment and disadvantaged community groups within the village.
“This score will surely see its passage to the next stage for further assessment? Residents, community groups and businesses will be ecstatic with this news.
“I commend the hard work of council officers and community representatives for their commitment to the Bushmills Regeneration Project to date. Its state of readiness has contributed to not only its Growth Deal consideration but its high score ranking.
“It will be a relief for many to see the vision of the village and its desired supporting aims become a reality.”
Three options had been discussed/identified by the Growth Deal Sub-committee:
Option 1 – Do nothing
Option 2 – Grant Thornton Recommendation – carry forward Priority One projects only for further assessment.
Option 3 – Carry forward Priority One projects and a maximum of two projects from Priority Two for further assessment.
UUP Councillor Richard Holmes proposed that the Council proceed with Option 3 which would also include the projects for Mountsandel Development and the regeneration of Dunluce Castle.
He said: Over £70m is an awful lot of money to come into our council area but when you get into some of the projects you realise that it won’t go far.
“Not all projects will come through this, it is a competitive process and quite rightly so. We need to have the most economic bang for our buck and some projects will fall by the wayside.”
DUP Councillor Aaron Callan who is also Head of the Growth Deal working group, seconded the proposal, describing the £70m as a ‘remarkable game changer for our area.”
He added: “I’m very excited by the Veterinary School project. Hopefully going forward that will be a key project within the Growth Deal. There is a lot of work to be done between now and seeing the delivery of these projects.
“It was highlighted at our recent meetings that we are a bit behind in terms of Growth Deals so we need to push this on.”
UUP Alderman Joan Baird also welcomed the Growth Deal money and the investment it will bring to the area adding; “I hope we maximise our benefit from it.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Bateson thanked the council staff “for getting us to this stage”.
He said: “Sinn Fein are supportive of Option 3 and we are looking forward to seeing how it materialises. This is a fantastic opportunity, it’s good to get it to this stage and I am looking forward to seeing it progress.”
SDLP Councillor Ashleen Scheening added her party’s support for Option 3.
“I have to bring up discussions we had within the working group – Mountsandel and Dunluce, two very, very worthwhile projects, it would be great to see them continue and I would like to see them both funded.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Cara McShane said; “As a multi party group around the table we have worked well and tried to get as much for the wider community and maximise the benefit across the pillars.”
All councillors agreed unanimously to proceed with Option 3 to enable officers to carry forward the agreed Growth Deal projects to the Strategic Outline Case (SoC) stage.