Belfast City Council leader lashes out after unsuccessful bid to boost fund

The issue was discussed at the monthly meeting of the Council’s Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee.

Sinn Fein’s Ronan McLaughlin received cross-party support for a report examining Belfast City Council’s unsuccessful attempt to increase second-round funding for an application related to newly acquired 2 Royal Avenue, a former Tesco store .

Last week it was announced that 10 projects in Northern Ireland would share £71m of the boost funding. Around £10m is going towards the creation of new riverside gardens in Bangor, £9m will convert the former Maghera High School into a new industrial park and £20m has been set aside for a new leisure and wellness center in Enniskillen.

£5.1m will go to 20 local rugby clubs and £4m will aim to save Belfast’s art deco beach cinema, an application independent of the council.

Mr Walsh told the committee: “It is deeply disappointing that 2 Royal Avenue has not received financial support. The Strand, which we’ve obviously funded before, received the funding.

“But I have to say, if you look at the funding map and consider what has happened here, Belfast may have a perceived renaissance underway, but it remains a city that still faces significant deprivation and is home to some of the poorest gives guardian.

“It seems to me the analysis is ‘Belfast gets it all and let’s split it up across the country’. I think that’s a pretty bad approach and I have to say I tend to agree with some of the criticisms I’ve seen in the press on this. I don’t know if I’m overshooting the mark with this or not.

“If you look at the leveling, I’m not sure that some of the decisions made about this are actually leveling and don’t seem to be generating really significant growth, which is something we should all be concerned about.”

Councilor McLaughlin added: “The Strand Cinema was the only project in Belfast to receive funding – fair play and congratulations to them. I’m sure it’s a great project. But we know that our capital funding and budget will come under pressure for the next few years with the current rate setting process and we will need to seek certain outside funding to try to mitigate this and try to get projects over the line in Belfast.

“We were originally told not to move up in round one because we would get more in round two, so we just applied for it. We lined up all our ducks for round two with a submission regarding 2 Royal Avenue which unfortunately was not successful.

“I am requesting a report to see what lessons need to be learned because I think it is unacceptable that we submitted two applications for a UK fund and both applications ended up being rejected. I know that a lot of work and effort has probably gone into it, but we really need to look at the projects that we are proposing and whether they match the funds’ vision as they have been set out.

“Local authorities in the North have drawn over £70million in funding from the Leveling Up fund and Belfast has nothing to date. We have to learn our lessons and get better at them – and certainly try to be competitive.

“I still think not going to round one was the wrong advice back then. And then, when we got to the second round, we were told that we only have one viable project, which my party and I raised concerns about. We were almost presented with a fait accompli, we were told there was only one project and it was moving forward.”

People Before Profit councillor, Fiona Ferguson, said: “To put a little context in terms of the wider media and certainly criticism from across the north of England, there are many, many projects that have had competitive bids that have had an incredibly impact on the disadvantaged areas would have affected . They have been passed over for funding, particularly for projects in Rishi Sunak’s own constituency.

“There is only so much officials can do in the face of this Tory fundraiser being laid up in the south of England and limited elsewhere to shore up their base.” Belfast City Council leader lashes out after unsuccessful bid to boost fund

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