Ilex was strangled by red tape and suffered years of frustration

2015: Mel Higgins, Chief Executive, Ilex, discussing the layout of the Ebrington Complex on a full scale model with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Acting First Minister and Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, who visited the site for the official opening of the Creative Hub at Eighty 81 Ebrington, with on left Philip Flynn, chairman Ilex and, from right, Mayor Elisha McCallion, Mark Durkan M.P. and Mark H. Durkan, Environment Minister. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)
2015: Mel Higgins, Chief Executive, Ilex, discussing the layout of the Ebrington Complex on a full scale model with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Acting First Minister and Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, who visited the site for the official opening of the Creative Hub at Eighty 81 Ebrington, with on left Philip Flynn, chairman Ilex and, from right, Mayor Elisha McCallion, Mark Durkan M.P. and Mark H. Durkan, Environment Minister. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

While others seek to point the finger of failure at Ilex I’d ask them to remember the fault of political and departmental choices around the working model for Ilex, with so many departmental constraints and controls to limit its capacity.

It’s a travesty that Ilex has been misrepresented with the accusation of a sizeable underspend on the car park at Ebrington. The fact is OFMDFM asked Ilex to take money that was underspent in Maze/Long Kesh in one budget year to add it to its spending on the car park in that year, with the proviso that the same sum earmarked in Ilex’s budget for the following year would be returned to the centre.

I also note a lot of commentary now about Ilex’s ‘mission creep’ from people who in the past have rejected my concerns Ilex should be enabled to concentrate more on its core business of the strategic riverside sites so that it could serve more like a Derry version of Laganside. But we should also acknowledge that some of that so-called mission creep involved Ilex trying to make good other delivery gaps. This included its pathfinding role in pursuing City of Culture opportunity when others were giving mixed signals. It also involved Ilex’s key role in coordinating and compiling Derry’s bids to the IDF. That fund, open to the North as a whole, was set up by the then Direct Rule Minister in response to our calls after significant closures in the textile industry here. Derry succeeded in getting well over 60% of the allocations from that fund, delivering public realm schemes in the city centre, the Walled City Signature Tourism funding, the dual carriageway to the City of Derry airport and the Centre of Excellence for Intelligent Systems at Magee. Derry’s bid would not have been so successful was it not for the cogency of Ilex’s editorial effort and case-modelling.

Of course the money from that fund was then transacted through other departments and agencies who enjoyed the credit for delivery but Ilex and the Integrated Development Fund, which was wound up in subsequent DUP-Sinn Féin budget decisions, were pivotal in achieving a possibly unique score rate for Derry in funding terms. Ilex’s role in securing the Science Park for Fort George is also being airbrushed. No one was more disappointed than me by the slow pace of development and delivery on Ebrington and Fort George. I know how frustrating the red tape and the departmental machinations were for Ilex’s personnel and board members.

As well as delivering some recent occupancy to give vibrancy to the Ebrington site, Ilex have other prospects lined up – so we should look forward to more emerging from the pipeline of its work.