An impassioned plea to preserve funding for the most deprived areas in Limavady and Coleraine fell on deaf ears this week.
Certain locations in Limavady - including Coolessan and Greystone - rank with the most deprived 10 per cent of areas anywhere in Northern Ireland.
A DUP councillor warned this week of dire consequences if neighbourhood renewal funding, which currently targets the most deprived 10 per cent of areas in Northern Ireland, is spread too thin.
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey spoke, during a visit to Limavady yesterday afternoon, of the positive impact of neighbourhood renewal projects in the town over the past few years.
His comments follow the decision of the Causeway Coast and Glens Council, confirmed this week, to spread funding for neighbourhood renewal across the most deprived 20 per cent of areas rather than the most deprived 10 per cent of areas.
DUP Councillor George Duddy said extending the funding to cover 20 per cent would “dilute” the good work already going on for those at the “bottom of the social ladder” as the funding would be spread thin.
It is an easy target to look at money that is spent on deprived areas because it is felt that these people can’t fight backCouncillor David Harding
His pleas fell on deaf ears, however, when 16 councillors voted to stick with the original plan to spread the funding to a wider area, compared with 13 who voted in favour of reverting to 10 per cent.
Councillor Duddy said: “I know the committee passed that we go with the 20 per cent. I think if the 20 per cent is passed it will have a detrimental effect in the areas where it is actually working at the moment - both here and in Limavady.
“There are some 20 people employed full time and eight people employed part time. When you take some of the key statistics from 2013 into 2014 - we saw some 213 adults gaining accredited qualifications and many of those wouldn’t have accessed formal education outside of neighbourhood renewal in their local areas, in their community.
“1175 pupils benefitted from the project supporting the long term vision of neighbourhood renewal in terms of addressing generational issues, educational underachievement, unemployment and benefits dependency. 53 people were involved as volunteers - and the actual number could be much higher.
“You have over 3,000 people who took part in health initiatives. These were delivered in their local areas and many people benefitted who would not otherwise have had the opportunity.
651 people were involved in parenting programmes.
“There have been many positive outcomes but we were fully aware when we started out with neighbourhood renewal that it wasn’t a one year, two year or three year project - it was going to continue for some time so that we could see the changes within the generation.
“The statistics around life expectancy, health, educational attainment, unemployment, etc. - to balance with the Northern Ireland average requires ongoing long term resourcing and I think if you reduce that, if you go from 10 to 20 per cent, it will have a detrimental effect.
“The current process enables targeted interventions to reach those most in need. At the bottom of the social ladder increasing the parameters too quickly will lead those already highly in need to be even worse off.
“Within the Ballysally area, the Building Ballysally Together group have achieved the Queen’s Award, which is the equivalent to an MBE for volunteering - that just wasn’t done overnight. It took years.
“Increasing the geographic areas will dilute the effectiveness. It is targeting small areas - in some cases individual streets. Lessons learned and structures in place should be built upon. The local renewal areas are not stagnating.
“I believe the director that was here that night said that we could go from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, if we found it wasn’t working, we could go back. Go back to what? Once we lose the people in these areas, and the passion that they have for their own areas we will not be able to go back. We lose their trust, we lose their confidence. There is no way we can go back and start from scratch. I think it is a massive mistake.
Sinn Féin councillor Dermot Nicholl said: “I proposed increasing it from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. I stand by that. We represent the entire Causeway Coast and Glens. I stand by the original 20 per cent proposal.
PUP Councillor Russell Watton seconded George Duddy’s proposals.
Independent Councillor David Harding said: “It’s an easy target to look at money that is spent on deprived areas because it is felt that these people can’t fight back.”
Another independent councillor, Padriag McShane, said: “I would encourage colleagues to go with the 20 per cent simply because there are areas that have fallen outside the 10 per cent that are in deep risk as well. They are going through real hardship and hard times. I know I worked in areas in the past that were not in the top ten per cent but were some of the most deprived and difficult areas but the figures were skewed simply because of a housing estate next to them”
Councillor Duddy requested a recorded vote. His proposal failed by 16 against and 13 votes for.
A recent report prepared by the Causeway Coast and Glens council found that the vast majority - 21 from 28 - of the small areas in Limavady were amongst the most deprived 20 per cent in Northern Ireland. It found that in one area, 40 per cent of residents had never worked. It found that there were higher than average long term health problems, disabilities, mental health issues and learning difficulties in most areas of Limavady. It found higher than average numbers of people with no qualifications in most areas. It found higher than average economic inactivity, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment in many areas of Limavady.
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey praised the impact of neighbourhood renewal projects in Limavady over the past few years. He said: “Almost £1.5 million has been invested by my Department over the last five years in projects to regenerate Limavady town centre.
“A further £2.1 million of financial assistance has been provided by the Department to projects in the Limavady Neighbourhood Renewal Area since 2010/11.
“This has made a significant improvement to the physical appearance of the town, service provision in the wider community and was a much needed boost for Limavady”.
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