Urban Villages

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 2nd November 2015.

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Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin 2:00 pm, 2nd November 2015

3. Mr F McCann asked the Minister for Social Development to outline the measures his Department will take to support the urban villages initiative. (AQO 8956/11-16)

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

As the Member will appreciate, the urban villages initiative is being led by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. DSD has been supporting the urban villages initiative through submitting, in early May, a bid for funding at the June monitoring round for a number of projects in Belfast and Londonderry totalling £2·1 million. The projects were identified along with estimated costs by the Strategic Investment Board (SIB). My Department is also supporting the urban villages initiative by assisting the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Strategic Investment Board when possible in the delivery of a number of those projects within the current financial year, and that work is ongoing.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. Many areas throughout the North are eagerly awaiting urban villages. Will you outline whether some are closer to taking off than others? Has any time frame been set that will give people confidence that they will take place?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

The process has been fraught with challenges. In some communities, it has been a challenge to try to get an understanding of what needs to be achieved with the urban villages concept. Under the OFMDFM urban villages initiative, there could be opportunities to bid for funding through future government monitoring rounds, and we are looking at that to see how to progress it. I want progress to be made on the ones that we originally identified. If we do that, we will be more successful in how we use this as a means in the future.

Through the June monitoring round, £500,000 was allocated to Londonderry, £400,000 was allocated to EastSide, and £1·2 million was allocated to the Colin town centre urban village to complete a number of projects. My Department will continue to progress the work within its control to maximise the spend in this financial year.

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

Will the Minister describe the projects that are being taken forward in urban village areas across the Province?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. As I said in answer to the original question, DSD staff are working in partnership with OFMDFM and the Strategic Investment Board on a number of schemes that are at various stages of design and procurement. In the Newtownards Road area, seven schemes are ongoing, including pocket parks, artworks, domestic frontages and other public realm and environmental improvements. In the Colin area, there is a plan for a large-scale play park, with an overall cost, as I said, of £1·2 million. In Ballysillan — I have no doubt that the Member will be interested in that location — Ardoyne, Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Markets urban village areas, engagement with the local communities is being taken forward by the SIB to identify potential project proposals. Six projects are being taken forward in the Bogside and Fountain urban village area in 2015-16, including two public realm schemes, shop frontage improvements, a play park, the renovation of a community centre and traffic safety initiatives. In addition, a number of longer-term proposals are being developed.

I trust that that gives the Member and other Members some sense of the diversity of what can be included and delivered under the concept of urban villages. Those who have engaged in those areas have found it to be challenging but rewarding when they see progress and an outcome that enhances their community.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP 2:15 pm, 2nd November 2015

The Minister mentioned the costs of the initiative. Does he agree that the lack of clarity on how much funding would be available has led to a very low uptake of projects outside the two cities, as he demonstrated quite clearly?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. It would be nice to have additional resource for many projects. There is always a sense when delivering, and even when planning for, projects such as this that there is not enough money in the fund. I am very conscious of the perception that this can become a very city-based initiative and that areas outside the confines of Belfast and Londonderry do not benefit. That is something that we need to take cognisance of. I, like other Ministers, am constrained by my budget. We have had that debate in the House on numerous occasions, but I do not think that any Minister is ever satisfied with the total amount that they receive. If additional funding was made available, serious consideration would be given to addressing the point that the Member raised.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for the Urban Villages support for a cross-community youth project in inner east Belfast that led to the reinstallation of the Teenage Dreams public artwork, a good example of the project in action. Given that Urban Villages is a headline project of the Northern Ireland good relations strategy, Together: Building a United Community, what key good relations outcomes will it achieve for our community?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I think that the Member has almost answered his own question. If we can make engagement and involvement possible for a community that is disengaged and feels that it does not have the infrastructure, or the environment, even to build relationships in its own area, let alone the strength and capacity to go beyond it, that is to be welcomed. During my time in office, I have visited a variety of projects that are making an invaluable contribution, first and foremost to their local area. We need to instil in our communities a sense of pride; it is sad that in some areas of Northern Ireland a sense of pride in your local community is not the priority that it should be. However, initiatives such as Urban Villages — it does not have all the answers — bring progress in the form of tangible outcomes. It enhances opportunities for communities to move forward and to have confidence that their area is a place where they want to live and bring up their children and where others can interact with them in a very positive way.