Communities Minister, Paul Givan MLA, has announced that regeneration powers, that were due to transfer to the new Councils, will now remain within the Department for Communities (DfC).
Outlining his decision to retain regeneration functions within the Department during a statement to the Assembly, the Minister said regardless of where legislative responsibility lies, Local Government does and will continue to play a huge role in ensuring the successful implementation of our regeneration programmes.
The Minister also announced that he would explore whether there is a case for extending regeneration activities such as public realm to settlements of less than 5,000 people and that he is to review the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme as part of a wider consideration of how best to address deprivation.
Speaking about his decision to retain regeneration functions within the new Department for Communities, the Minister said: “The Programme for Government sets out an entirely new context for the delivery of our services, including the way in which we address poverty and disadvantage, and the way that we use our statutory powers to drive economic growth and lever new investment to benefit everybody in this society. 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.”
While the initial intention was to extend regeneration powers to Local Government, the necessary legislation did not progress within the mandate of the previous Assembly. In the intervening period new Central Government Departments have been established with a broader range of functions and there is a new approach to the Programme for Government by the NI Executive.
The Minister continued: “It is my assessment therefore, that the new context calls for a new direction of travel. I want my Department to be at the forefront of that change, using all of the powers and resources at its disposal to achieve the outcomes and the ambition the Executive has for our society as set out in the Programme for Government. 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.”
Currently the Department’s policy on physical regeneration programme, such as public realm, development grants and revitalisation, is restricted to towns with populations over 5,000.
As part of today’s announcement, the Minister has asked officials to review the current position to explore the possibility of extending this physical regeneration programme to settlements less than 5,000.
The Minister said: “A change to, or indeed the removal of, the population threshold could open up new opportunities to lever in much greater investment including that from the private sector and local government to new areas, producing new employment opportunities by, for example, exploiting social clauses. This would also ensure that citizens living, socialising and availing of services in smaller settlements have access to the same benefits of public space developments as their counterparts in larger conurbations.”
Turning to the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme, the Minister outlined to the Assembly how the current strategy has seen an investment of £280million in deprived areas since 2003 and that whilst it has delivered improvements in the Neighbourhood Renewal Areas, the areas remain some way behind when compared to the rest of Northern Ireland.
The Minister therefore announced his intention to review the Department’s current strategies for tackling deprivation. He said: “The current Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy has provided many good news stories across all of the areas that have participated in the programme. But we have to recognise that things have moved on. There is a different context now, with the Programme for Government placing responsibilities on us to focus our efforts on things that make a difference and make a positive impact on the outcomes it sets out to achieve. I wish to announce today that it is my intention to review the current strategies for tackling deprivation. It is in all our interests to see if we can design a programme which will have a greater impact on the intractable social and economic barriers which limit life chances for so many in our community.
“I give my assurance that there will be no sudden change to the delivery of the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. This will remain in place until the review is complete.”
The process is likely to take 18 months – two years to complete and the development of proposals will be informed by widespread consultation.
The Minister’s full statement can be viewed at https://www.communities-ni.