No dates have yet been set for the transfer of any of the sites identified in the reinvestment and reform initiative. Ebrington Barracks is still used by the Ministry of Defence, but it is expected to be ready for transfer early in 2004. All the major sites are to be transferred free of charge to the Executive. We wish to use local experience and expertise to advise us on how to use those strategically important assets. We also wish to consult and involve local community and business groups in developing ideas for their future use. Such extensive estates offer us many possibilities for major economic and social regeneration. We shall consider the options carefully, so that we achieve dynamic development, working in partnership with local communities.
Is the First Minister aware of the encouragement and reassurance that people in Derry got from the clear and firm leadership of the Deputy First Minister and himself when they launched the initiative and appointed the excellent joint chairpersons of the partnership panel? Will he assure the House that, come what may, the resolve will be maintained and that petty bureaucracy from any source, including the Department for Social Development, will not be allowed to slow down such an important initiative?
Like the Speaker, I was delighted to see the Member in her place, otherwise we might not have been able to answer the question. We were conscious of the broad welcome for the initiative and its impact on the Ebrington site when the Deputy First Minister and I were in Londonderry for the announcement. Indeed, it was the Deputy First Minister who said that it was "thinking outside the box" that enabled us to negotiate the arrangement with the Treasury, and "thinking outside the box" will enable us to get maximum benefit from it. We are considering how the site should be developed and what legal and administrative arrangements will be needed in all the sites of strategic value to get most benefit from them. In doing that, we shall work closely with local communities and interests. We are grateful to Dr Alan McClure and Ms Una McGillion for agreeing to act as co-chairpersons of the partnership and regeneration panel for the Ebrington site.
I welcome the announcement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, especially as the Maze Prison, which is in my constituency, is involved. However, the development of the special investment board and the reinvestment and reform initiative are critical to the success of the programme. What progress has been made on setting up the board?
The strategic investment body will be crucial to the development of the initiative. As with the precise legal and administrative structures that we may need for the development of strategic sites, we are still considering how that will be done. However, as a means of demonstrating that progress is being made, we announced that we would form a project board for the strategic investment board. I am happy to tell the Member that that project board has been filled and that we have nominees from all four parties in the Administration to carry out that important job on behalf of the Executive. We are glad that all four parties made nominations. The board will meet for the first time tomorrow, and I am sure that everyone will welcome that clear demonstration that all four parties in the Administration are continuing to work closely together.
Discussions are ongoing on that matter. I do not know whether it would be to the Executive’s advantage to take part of the site now when they may be unable to develop one part in isolation from the whole site. The object of the exercise is to get the best value for the community from the sites and to see that the strategic potential is recognised. Therefore, the Executive must tread carefully. I am not surprised that the Member was not prepared to endorse, or at least he omitted to endorse, his party’s decision to participate in this important initiative by nominating to the board.