Belfast needs regeneration powers – McDonough-Brown

Alliance Councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown has called for the Minister for Communities to devolve regeneration powers to local councils.

Councillor McDonough-Brown was speaking after lodging a motion for discussion at Belfast City Council.

The motion states: “This council expresses its profound disappointment in the decision of the Minister for Communities not to proceed with the Regeneration Bill and devolution of regeneration powers to local government; recognises that these powers would strengthen and enhance our ability to drive strategic regeneration activity, when used alongside community and land use planning; believes this decision to be in conflict with the entire direction and ethos of local government reform and to be a significant missed opportunity; reiterates our support for the devolution of regeneration powers to local government; and calls for the Minister for Communities to meet with the Council with a view to reversing his decision and proceeding with the Bill.”

Councillor McDonough-Brown said: “Yet again we have an example of the DUP not delivering on previous promises. Under the previous Department for Social Development the Regeneration Bill was drafted as part of the devolution of powers to local government following an extensive reform programme. DUP Ministers published the Bill and started its passage in the Assembly.

“Simply put, this is a DUP promise to Belfast which has been broken. What was right for Belfast before is now, inexplicably, not the case. Our city deserves powers of local regeneration. Central government has shown it has neither the knowledge nor the focus to do this vital work. Citizens in our capital city want us to succeed and now we’ll have to, in spite of Stormont instead of because of it.

“In a written statement to the Assembly on 11 November 2014 about the Regeneration Bill, the then DSD Minister Mervyn Storey said: ‘The aim of this fundamental reform programme is to transform local government, putting decision making on local matters in the hands of locally elected representatives. It is not just about doing things differently; it is about doing things better. By transferring key functions such as planning, urban regeneration, local economic development and local tourism from central to local government, councils will be provided with the means with which to shape their areas and communities.’

“So my questions to the DUP are: Is retaining regeneration powers at Stormont enabling Councils to do things better? Without regeneration powers how can we shape our areas and communities? What has changed since Mervyn Storey made that statement?

“Local councils are best placed to plan and deliver much needed regeneration projects for their citizens. It makes more sense to have a one stop shop where developers can access planning and regeneration responsibilities under one authority. That way, projects can be delivered on time without unnecessary bureaucracy.

“The Executive has identified ‘driving economic growth’ as a Programme for Government priority. Councils are also charged with driving economic growth, so it makes no sense to renege on previous promises to give us a key tool to achieve a strong local economy.

“After making his statement, the Communities Minister refused to say if he had consulted on his decision with NILGA, or any individual council. We have heard the Finance Minister and several developers speak out against this decision. I now call on the Minister to come to Belfast City Council to tell us in person why the DUP has let Belfast down again.”

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