New Mid Ulster Spruce Up scheme will be limited to Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt and Coalisland, councillors hear
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The revamp scheme will include external works such as power washing, painting, repairs to guttering, windows, doors, signage and shutter art, as well as internal works to improve public accessibility, among others.
Mid Ulster District Council is now in possession of a Contract for Funding from DfC, and this will allow the local authority to procure the services of an architect who will oversee the scheme delivery.
The appointed architect will independently assess all applications. Offers will be made to the successful property/business owners to commit funds by March 31.
Some Development Committee members, at their most recent meeting, were clearly unhappy that the Spruce Up cheme was limited to those four towns with a population exceeding 5,000, and that it could not be extended beyond the town centre boundaries.
Councillor Barry Monteith (Independent, Dungannon DEA) stated: “[Regarding] the Spruce Up scheme, is there any further update on the rural side of it? We’re trying to open out to other settlements towns.
“And also in relation to the towns that are going to be accepted. The old chestnut of the town centre boundaries. There’s ongoing rows every time this comes up in Dungannon.
“I know there were issues in Coalisland the last time about who’s in and who’s not in.
“I was looking through the documentation. I don’t actually see a map of who’s in and who’s not in.”
Assistant director of Economy, Tourism and Strategic Programmes, Fiona McKeown, explained that she too was disappointed by the limited scope of the scheme.
“In terms of rural, within the last four to six weeks we had been in touch with DAERA to see, was there further funding that they could provide to roll this out into rural areas, and they had said to us there’s no no funding available in the current financial year, and they couldn’t comment on the next financial year because they didn’t know what their budgets were,” she said.
“On the town centre boundaries we have fought hard. Whenever we’re looking at the town-centre boundary, the argument that we made would be the 30-mile limits, basically stretched out to the very edge of the town, so that everybody literally could be in as far as possible.
“We have been pushed back by DfC. There have been a number of meetings about this and I have lobbied to try and get the the boundary stretched.
“At this minute in time they talk about the town centre like the core boundary which is very closely limited – it won’t stretch out to the side streets and all of those sorts of things.
“That’s the points that I have been raising at the previous meetings, that this was a concern that we had as officers.
“DFC have resisted on each occasion to budge from their position in terms of allowing us to widen that out.
“They’re saying it must be mirroring what is basically in the various documents that are with our planning team and the area plans, because that defines what that town centre core boundary is.
“We can certainly circulate those maps to the members to let them see where the boundaries are, but we have tried on numerous occasions to to lobby in this because we are aware of the members’ views, and we would agree with them that [the boundaries] should be stretched as far as possible, to allow more businesses to apply to the scheme, but we’re being advised that is definitely not possible from an DfC perspective.
“If we want the money this is what we have to do to obtain it.”
Councillor Malachy Quinn (SDLP, Torrent DEA) echoed that feeling of disappointment in relation to Coalisland.
“On the edge of the town boundary in Coalisland, there are other businesses that are just missing out because of the boundary.
“If [it could] be stretched out to the 30mph zones it would be perfect. Is this something that you think we could get DfC over the line on, or is this a case where we probably have to wait until there’s a minister in place for us to lobby directly? said Cllr Quinn.
The senior council officer replied: “It’s their policy position. If there was a a minister in place that could be looked at again, but there’s not and they won’t budge. If we take this money this is what we are accepting, because they will not allow us to move [the boundaries].”
Cllr Monteith claimed that the policy on town centre boundaries had not been clearly defined over the years.
“We’ve become the bad guy then. This has been a problem when there have been ministers, this has been a problem when there haven’t been ministers,” he said.
“The area plan for Dungannon is now 30 years old, and there were many complaints about it at the time as regards the boundaries within it.
“There [have been] at least four different documents since then. Some of them have been produced by DfC about the town centre boundary which are different, there’s Dungannon masterplan [with] different boundaries on it, so they keep moving the goal posts.
“I’m tempted to say, well if DfC want to implement these rules, let them do the grant scheme rather than us, because I don’t see what there is to gain for us doing it. Let them take the flak.
Chair of committee, councillor John McNamee (Sinn Féin, Cookstown DEA) brought the debate to a conclusion, stating: “If it’s any comfort to you, we have the same problem in Cookstown, but we have to go by their rules.
“Let’s hope that if we get the assembly restored we can have a a meeting with a new Minister, and we can bring a delegation from Council to sit down and we can all explain where we stand, but at this stage I think we have no choice.”
The current Spruce Up scheme will end on September 30, 2024.