Legal challenge threat over stymied regeneration plan

Ards and North Down councillors have voiced outrage and threatened a legal challenge to Stormont over a failed plan to regenerate Portaferry.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 7:14 am

The council spent £100,000 designing a public realm plan in conjunction with a Stormont Department for Communities funding scheme, but plans to transform the Ards Peninsula town were torpedoed after the department changed funding criteria with a new minister after the Executive returned in early 2020.

In 2017 the previous communities minister Paul Givan had expanded a public realms scheme for towns from a population threshold of over 5,000 to include those with a population of over 2,500, rendering Portaferry eligible for application. In 2018 Ards and North Down Council agreed to commence the design stage for the scheme, with works planned to begin this year.

Councillors were informed last month, however, that the new Communities Minster Deirdre Hargey had changed the threshold back to 5,000, meaning Portaferry could no longer avail of the fund.

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At the latest full meeting of the council, elected members agreed to request an urgent meeting with Ms Hargey, to reiterate the call for the funding.

SDLP councillor Joe Boyle, who previously chaired a special committee on the work, said: “Members will know the amount of work that went into the scheme, and the amount of hours that went into it.

“It came as a major shock and disappointment, not only to the council, but also to the Portaferry community and everybody involved.

“It was also very disturbing to know that the council has supported this the whole way, and put £100,000 of ratepayers’ money in doing what we had to do, to get to where we were.

“I’m not sure where or why it fell down, or how far we were led before we were given the ultimate news.”

He added: “Somebody somewhere within that department would have known that funding was not secure, and alarm bells should have been sent to the council that we needed to stop what we were doing, because there was no funding from the scheme.”

DUP councillor Robert Adair said: “My reading is we were promised the funding by the Department for Communities and the council has been led up the garden path.”

He added: “Minister Hargey changed the threshold without any prior consultation with this council or any stakeholders. Minister Givan changed the threshold following consultation.” He asked Ms Hargey to “honour the commitment to the people of Portaferry”.

DUP Alderman Stephen McIlveen said: “We are all shocked at the amount of money the council has spent thus far in relation to this project, and all done in good faith and with a legitimate expectation.

“I would certainly hope the council is taking legal advice in relation to this to seek if we are unable to proceed, that we are able to recoup our money.”