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26th January 1998
Minutes of Special Meeting of Strabane District Council held in the Council Chamber, Council Offices, Derry Road, Strabane on Monday 26 January 1998 at 7.30 pm
Present:- In the Chair:- Councillor E Mullen Other Members:- Councillors Mrs A Bell, I Barr, D A Bresland, J Donnell, D Hussey, T Kerrigan, T McBride, C McHugh, E McMenamin, J McNulty, I Murtagh, J O'Kane, E Turner MBE Total = 14
Apology:- Councillor J Emery
In Attendance:- Messrs D Torrens, R Sproule, Mrs H Torrens, Killen District
Messrs S Nugent, P Carlisle, DANI - RDD
Clerk and Chief Executive, Chief Administrative Officer,
Economic Development Officer, Committee Clerk
Get Well Wishes
The Chairman of the Council welcomed Councillor O'Kane back to Council meetings following his recent stay in Hospital. In response Councillor O'Kane expressed his sincere gratitude to all the Councillors and Council officials for their get well wishes and the gift which Council had sent.
Grant Aid Application - Killen District Development Limited
The Chairman of the Council welcomed Members to the Special Council meeting which had been called at short notice as a result of discussions which he had had with Mr S Nugent, DANI - RDD, regarding the grant aid application by Killen District Development Limited (KDDL) to Council. He reminded Members that it had been agreed in December 1997 to hold special meetings to discuss all applications for funding which had been received from the respective Groups.
On behalf of the Council, he welcomed the representatives of KDDL and invited them to make their presentation after which Members would have an opportunity to clarify any points. He explained that the RDD officials would address the meeting on the funding implications after the presentation and address any Members' queries.
Mr Torrens explained, with the aid of a multi media projection presentation, that KDDL was established as a company limited by guarantee during 1996 to bring forward the project. KDDL covered the Glenderg and Clare Wards of Strabane District Council which had a population of approx. 1,070. KDDL was an active member of the Mournederg Partnership and was part of its Strategic Regeneration and Development Plan for the whole area. It was also an area of high unemployment. Its objectives were to increase employment in an area of high deprivation, to facilitate reconciliation amongst the people of the area through the provision of a "neutral" venue, to research the play needs of children in the area and to develop the potential for tourism in the area. Various surveys had been carried out and identified the need to create opportunities for business, enterprise and community through employment, provision of childcare facilities, provision of a neutral meeting place and to develop the tourism potential in the area.
He further explained that through public tendering the group bid for the site and the tender was accepted. Following close liaison with Mrs M Dargan, Project Manager, RDC, a Consultant was contracted to compile a Business Plan and Economic Appraisal. This was completed in June 1997 and approved by the Department of Agriculture's Economic & Statistics Department in July 1997. An architect's impression of the final project was shown of the respective elevations. A breakdown of the total costs for acquisition of the Creamery building, renovation and newbuild etc. in the sum of £652,000 was given. The funding package was as follows:- Strabane District Council - £30,000 - awaiting approval; DANI - £295,000 - approved; IFI grant - £200,000 - approved; RDC P&R - £40,000 - approved; Community contribution - £32,000 - approved; District Partnership - £30,000 - approved; Sports lottery - £25,000 - approved. The benefits to the Council area were outlined which included creation of up to 23 full-time jobs, address an identified need in the area and an opportunity for Strabane District Council to secure a capital injection of £622,000 into its District at a cost of 4.5% by Council. A select list of contractors had been approved by DOE Construction Services, tenders had been sent out, it was anticipated that contractors would be on site on 16 February1998 and KDDL was under pressure from the funders and WUF to complete acquisition. KDDL was, therefore, requesting the Council to provide grant assistance of a minimum of £30,000 to enable the project to proceed with a substantial investment to the district of £652,000.
The Chairman, on behalf of the Council, commended Mr Torrens on his concise and comprehensive presentation. He then invited factual comments from Members. Councillor Turner enquired if planning permission had been granted and it was pointed out that the application was on the planning schedule for the Council meeting the following night with a recommendation of approval. Councillor Hussey commented that the funding package was very impressive and he enquired about the stringency of the criteria laid down by the other funders. Mr Carlisle explained that the RDD criteria was very stringent and in this instance the application would have encompassed stringent criteria from the respective bodies as was demonstrated by the letters of offer which had already been given.
Councillor Barr enquired to what degree the funding on offer from the other agencies was dependent on that from Council. Mr Carlisle explained that funding from DANI - RDD and IFI was subject to the full funding package being in place which included any funding from the Council. Councillor McMenamin applauded the efforts of the group particularly in view of the job creation. He enquired about fund raising efforts and was advised that this had been done through a variety of activities and a deposit had been placed on the property. Councillor Murtagh indicated that he had met the group and was aware of its commitment and enthusiasm. A number of points which he had wished to raise had already been answered.
Councillor Kerrigan welcomed the scheme which was exciting for the area and enquired the anticipated start date in the event that funding etc. was in place. Mr Torrens advised that it was hoped to commence in February with a completion date of October 1998. Councillor Kerrigan spoke of the potential benefits to the area which had lost jobs with the closure of the Creamery and the factory in Castlederg.
Councillor McHugh commented on the last presentation by the group to Council in April 1997. He stressed that he would state publicly that he had reservations about the buying of the Creamery. He was of the opinion that the Council was being railroaded to put in £60,000 into this venture as was proven by the District Valuer's advice. He referred to Councillor Murtagh's comments in that he had been fully aware of the work of the group but Councillor McHugh stated that he had been a Derg Councillor for some time and had never been provided with any details despite several requests for information at Council meetings. He enquired the purchase price of Killen Creamery. In response Mr Torrens advised that when the property became available for purchase informal discussions had taken place with the independent valuer on the value of the property. The group tendered its bid at that time in the sum of £92,000 and it was accepted. Councillor McHugh queried whether the figures which were placed before the Council for the current application, as opposed to the previous one, included the purchase price of the property. Mr Torrens advised that the group looked at it from the overall package and the £30,000 would be part of it. Councillor McHugh enquired if the property had been paid for to which Mr Torrens replied that it had not and that the price of the property was £92,000 plus £1,000 for fees etc.
Councillor McHugh referred to the letter from Mr Nugent, DANI which specifically pointed out that DANI having considered its position very carefully felt it was inappropriate to bear the sole risk of the purchase of the site and as such must wait the outcome of this. He queried why specifically reference was made to the purchase price. Mr Carlisle explained that the Department's letter of offer was conditional on the full funding package being in place. Where no decision had been taken by Council the Department had to look at the various options open to it. If there was cause for concern about the Council decision, it would have left the Department having drawn down finances without a full funding package being in place. The Department would take a full charge on its assets for protection in order to safeguard in the event of having to sell same which might not realise the funding committed. DANI was not prepared to go ahead on its own but had received a reassurance from the District Partnership that it would share the risk. Until such times as the full funding package was in place, DANI would not take the risk.
Councillor McHugh commented that the original figures put forward by IFI and DANI had increased from £150,000 to £200,000 and £250,000 to £295,000 respectively and that the Millennium funding was lost. Mr Carlisle explained that both the Department's and IFI's contributions had increased to cover shortfalls. When the project was first prepared, thirteen potential funding sources were identified, however, some of these withdrew, one of which was the Millennium. DANI continued to be supportive of the project and IFI agreed to increase their initial contribution in order to cover any shortfall from Millennium funding withdrawing.
Councillor McHugh commented that the Committee was made up by 100% of one side of the community. He queried if the group at any stage in its contacts with Strabane District Council, IFI or any of the other bodies found any difficulty in relation to the make-up. Mr Torrens explained that from the outset the Group's doors were always open and anyone would be more than welcome to come in and the Group was keen to improve the quality of life and job creation and everyone was welcome. The area was mainly Protestant. In all the Group's efforts it had surveyed not only one side of the community but also every household within the area.
Councillor McHugh agreed that groups did not necessarily have to be cross community in order to receive funding. He expressed regret that the Group had been badly advised in the original application to Council.
Councillor Barr quoted from letter dated 30 July 1997 from the Valuation and Lands Agency and signed by Mr P Bell. He asked how the situation arose whereby the DOE Planning Service requested the Valuation and Lands Agency to negotiate on the premises on behalf of a local Community Development Group. In response Mr Carlisle explained that from the funders point of view, it offered independence as the Group itself did not have to negotiate itself and it was in fact a requirement by DANI - RDD, and many other Departments.
The Chairman of the Council informed Members that he had requested Mr Nugent, DANI - RDD, to attend tonight's meeting. He further explained that Mr Nugent had addressed the All Party meeting on 21 January 1998 and highlighted the fact that there was a risk that the funding package was in danger of being lost. He enquired why Groups came to Council in order to kick-start funding.
Mr Nugent expressed appreciation for the opportunity to address Council at such short notice. RDD was not generally dependent on Council playing a part in its projects. He explained that this was the Strabane district area and it would encourage the Councils to play a part in it. In this particular instance RDD was aware that the Group had applied to Council for funding at the outset and in fact it was listed as a potential funder and RDD was reasonably confident that funding would be forthcoming. The project could not run until all of the funding was confirmed. The reason for the urgency in seeking a Council decision was that RDD had a projected spend of £200,000 in relation to this project before the end of March and would lose this plus the equivalent amount of money for the following year and this was the reason for the urgency. DANI - RDD needed a decision by Council to night, if possible, regarding this application for funding.
The Chairman commented that the presentation had highlighted that an investment of 4.5% approx. by Council into this major project would draw down £600,000 approx. and he urged Members to bear this in mind. Mr Nugent explained that RDD was currently working with Killeter and hoped to continue to work in the Castlederg area and build up a comprehensive programme for the future.
Councillor McHugh enquired how long the Development Group had been involved with DANI. Mr Nugent advised that this commenced a few weeks after the Creamery closed. He had been speaking at a Community Group meeting around that time, approx. two years ago, and had stated that RDD would provide support in the event that a good project came forward. Councillor McHugh enquired if RDD was involved with the Group prior to the Creamery being bought. In response Mr Nugent stated that the purchase of the Creamery was included in the package. The Economic Development Officer advised that she recalled having a first meeting with Mrs Monnine Dargan, Project Manager, RDC and Mr Torrens in February 1996. Mr Carlisle explained that the normal process with the Rural Development Programme involved a lot of dealings with the RDC.
Councillor McHugh enquired if the Castlederg Enterprise Company or Castlederg & District Development Association had any part in this package. Mr Nugent stated that he had held discussions with the Castlederg & District Development Association and the Mournederg Partnership to get other ideas which were coming forward and would continue to do so.
Councillor McHugh referred to the possible loss of funding which RDD may experience if it did not meet its anticipated spend. He commented that he was astounded that the respective officials could not get the Castlederg Area Based Strategy up and running. In response Mr Nugent stressed that RDD was working on an ongoing basis with both of the groupings in the Castlederg area in order to get a co-ordinated approach in the area. RDD had been talking to both groups for some considerable time and would like to form an overriding body, however, this was halted as a result of the change of Government. There was some money to spend in the area but it had to have a bid for that money in the same way as any other. A strategic approach for the Castlederg area was needed.
In response to a query by Councillor McBride, Mr Nugent explained that if a decision regarding funding was made by Council tonight, tenders could be sought immediately and the whole process could commence and funding would not be lost. Mr Carlisle further advised that an invoice had been received from the design team in the sum of £40-50,000 and materials such as steelwork, cladding etc. could be purchased in advance. He explained that the sum of £200,000 could be spent within a short period of time.
Councillor Barr commented that two separate applications had been received around the time of the Killen application. Representatives of the two groups had over the past few months repeatedly sought clarification as to whether a firm commitment in relation to funding would be forthcoming from the Council. He understood that none of the funding agencies involved had made any contact with Council on behalf of the two groups. He stated that since 1985 he had never experienced a situation where an application for funding had received such assistance as that from Killen i.e. two years of consultation including legal opinions etc. and as yet the cost to the ratepayers had not been detailed. After two years despite the best efforts of senior Council and those briefing them, it was found to be not possible for Council to grant a loan. He stressed that it should be made clear that any delay was not by any obstruction by the Council which in effect proved to be the wrong procedure in the first place. He urged that in the interests of fair play that the efforts which appeared to have been made by the respective funding agencies in respect of this current application should be made on behalf of all other applications.
The Chairman expressed the hope that KDDL would appreciate that neither the current Council nor the previous administration had caused the delay but the technicalities and legalities involved. He urged the IFI and other major groups to adopt a more pro-active approach. Mr Nugent commented that it was the role of his Department to assist with project ideas in every way possible and provide support right through until a project was up and running. He further advised that RDD only dealt with rural groups.
The Chairman reminded Members of the urgency for Council to make a decision tonight. To this end he invited the representatives from KDDL and DANI - RDD to retire to the Canteen for a short time so that they would be available in the event that any further information was required by Council prior to making a decision. This was agreed and they left the meeting at this point. The Chief Executive joined the meeting at this point as he had just returned from Belfast on Council business and the Chief Administrative Officer left the meeting.
The Chairman reminded Members that a Council decision was now required otherwise there was a possibility of the Council area losing out on £652,000 investment. He commented on the initial request for £60,000 which had now been reduced to £30,000. The Chief Executive explained that the difference of £30,000 was being met by the other groups.
Councillor Barr stated the only point of concern for him was that the All Party Committee had recommended that the Fountain Street and Springhill Park groups would be considered at the same time as Killen. The Chief Executive commented that the Community Services Officer had confirmed that funding for Springhill Park would be included in the Community Development budget this year. Councillor McHugh commented that the recommendation of the All Party Committee had not yet been adopted by Council and he quoted from Minutes of Council meeting of 9 December 1997.
Councillor McHugh remarked that if figures had been amended then the District Partnership also needed to be advised accordingly as it had made a recommendation on the total sum. He felt the Council was being pressurised into making a decision. The planning application would be before Council the following night and KDDL's AGM was approaching. He was of the opinion that the Chief Executive's report placed before Council accounted for very little. He stated that he had never had concise answers to the many points which he had raised from the outset. He still had reservations that anyone else may have been kept out of buying the property. He understood that there were at least four bids to buy the property.
Councillor Hussey commented that figures were being bandied about. The draw down effect of the Council's input into the overall investment had been outlined earlier in the meeting. Mr Nugent had stressed that if RDD did not spend the £295,000 this would result in a similar reduction in next year's budget. He commented that it would appear that the Area Based Strategy for Castlederg may not go ahead. The Council now had an opportunity to make a financial commitment to this project to complete the funding package.
Councillor Hussey proposed, seconded by Councillor Kerrigan, that the Council approve the payment of grant aid in the sum of £30,000 to KDDL.
Councillor O'Kane stated that he had no objections to the proposal. He reiterated Councillor Barr's viewpoint that other groups had sought funding from Council and that all the applications were to be considered in tandem. He, therefore, requested that the Council consider all the applications at the same time.
Councillor Barr informed Members that he had just learnt that the other Groups to which he had referred earlier were not as far advanced in their funding packages as KDDL. He, therefore, accepted the recommendation of the All Party Committee meeting that the Groups would be considered when they had reached the stage as KDDL. The Chairman reassured Members that a special Council meeting would be called as necessary to discuss the other applications for funding. Councillor Turner stated that his Party would honour the commitment given to the other Groups.
Councillor McHugh enquired details of the exact amount of funding which KDDL was requesting. Councillor Hussey pointed out that this information was given by KDDL in its presentation and was also clearly listed in the documentation distributed. The Chief Executive stated that he had not had any recent contact with the Group but understood that it had initially requested £60,000. Mr Nugent had stated that if the Council gave £30,000 the other funding bodies would absorb the outstanding £30,000. He explained that he had not been present in the Council meeting during the Group's presentation and was not aware, therefore, if any additional information had been given.
Councillor McHugh asked if the Council could fund the Group and under what legislation? In response the Chief Executive stated that the Council could make provision under Article 28 of the 1982 Order to make payments to promote economic development of its district, as outlined in item no. 5 of his report which was presented to the meeting, subject to sufficient funds being available.
Voting took place on Councillor Hussey's proposal and it was carried by 13 votes to nil. A recorded vote was taken on the request of Councillor McHugh.
FOR Councillors Barr, Bresland, Donnell, Hussey, Kerrigan, McBride, McHugh,
McMenamin, McNulty, Mullen, Murtagh, O'Kane, Turner
It was unanimously agreed that the Council grant aid Killen District Development Limited the sum of £30,000.
Councillor McHugh asked to be recorded that while he still had some uneasiness about the purchase of the Creamery he believed that the greater good of the community inclined him to vote for the proposal.
Councillor Hussey commented on the positive input to the presentation to Council by DANI - RDD and urged that representatives of funders be present at future meetings, as necessary. Councillor McBride concurred with these sentiments and sought clarification on whether there was a body which acted on behalf of Groups based in the urban area.
The meeting closed at 9.05 pm.
DATED this 26th day of JANUARY 1998
Clerk and Chief Executive
DATED this 10th of FEBRUARY 1998
Chairman of the Council