A ‘City Deal’ will be hammered out during negotiations between the Council and several Whitehall departments, British Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated during a visit to Londonderry this week.
Mr. Hammond, who met with Mayor, John Boyle, and Council Chief Executive John Kelpie, who are leading Derry City & Strabane District Council’s bid for a ‘City Deal’, said he expected to find a proposal on his desk in Number 11 Downing Street when he returned to London.
“There’s a strong suspicion that they’ve already got it written,” he told the 'Sentinel'.
“We’re looking forward to receiving it. We can [then] engage at official level, working through it, seeking additional information where necessary, and getting the process moving,” he said.
In the first visit of a senior British Cabinet minister since former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, travelled to the city in 2013, Mr. Hammond, said the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), Treasury and Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government would all be involved.
However, he refused to speculate on what new monies and powers might cascade to Londonderry if a bid was successful.
“We will receive a bid and we will then engage in a negotiation so it’s premature at this stage to talk about what that end deal might involve,” he said.
On the intense anxiety in Derry over Brexit and the border he said he was acutely aware of the sensitivities involved.
“We avoid it by getting a deal done with the EU. We put a proposal forward in our White Paper [committing to a responsible approach to avoiding a hard border], which would ensure there is no change in the way the border works and would also ensure that the UK/EU economy can continue to function without introducing new frictions,” he said.
Asked if future initiatives such as the establishment of a ‘free port’ for Londonderry or State-aid for industry would be potential options for an unfettered post-Brexit UK, he was lukewarm.
“We are less interested in ideas which simply try to shift economic activity from one area or region to another...we should be trying to grow economic activity overall. ‘Free port’ proposals would depend on the arrangements that we would agree with the EU.”