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21/09/2021

Warning that Derry ratepayers will have to foot the bill for airport’s £2.5m funding shortfall

(Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)
RATEPAYERS in Derry could be hit with another increase in their annual bill unless £2.5m in government funding pledged for the local airport can be ‘urgently’ accessed, it has been warned. The comments came at Thursday afternoon’s meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Audit, Assurance and Risk Committee, where it also emerged that the local council had written to the British Secretary of State asking her to intervene in the matter. At the meeting, councillors were told that the development of new routes at the City of Derry Airport was a ‘key risk and challenge’ for the council, who own the facility. In October 2016, council was awarded £2.5m from the Northern Ireland Executive for ‘route development’. However, Denise McDonnell, Risk and Assurance Officer with the council, told the meeting that the council had been unable to access the funding due to what she described as the ‘current political uncertainty’, as there is currently no functioning Stormont Executive. She added that council officers have completed all ‘relevant tender documents’ to secure a new Public Service Obligation (PSO) route and have passed all necessary documentation to the officials within the Executive. Ms McDonnell told the meeting that the council’s Chief Executive, John Kelpie had also sent letters to the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley and the Permanent Secretary requesting the ‘urgent’ release of the funding. She continued that ‘adequate budgetary provision has been made for 2017/18 and 2018/19’. The meeting was also told that issues had been encountered with accounts being submitted for the airport, which most likely had come as a result of ‘changes in personnel’, but added that council officers were now working with the CoDA on the issue. Commenting, the independent councillor Paul Gallagher said that if the council was unable to access the funding, then there was a real possibility that local ratepayers would have to make up the shortfall. In February of this year, Derry City and Strabane District Council has agreed its budget for the 2018/19 financial year with a rates increase of 2.99 per cent. Cllr Gallagher said that unless the £2.5m was released, it would increase again. “You said that letters were sent to the Permanent Secretary and the Secretary of State,” he said. “We could write one hundred letters a week, and we would get the same response we always do – ‘Your letter is noted’. “I have major concerns here, and if there is no route development, we’ll be sitting here in February again and the fall-back position will be to go back to the ratepayers.” Critical Responding, Alfie Dallas, Head of Strategic Finance and Funding with the council, added that accessing the funding was ‘critical’ for the airport and continued that an update report on the matter will be brought before the July meeting of the council’s Governance and Strategic Planning. Cllr Gallagher then added: “This committee is Audit and Assurance, so maybe that report should come here.” Meanwhile, Tony Jackson, and independent member of the council’s Audit Committee, asked that given the meeting had just been told that there was ‘adequate budgetary provision’ for the airport, did that mean it was certain that the £2.5m would be allocated. Mr Dallas replied that while council didn’t ‘presume’ the funding was coming, it should be made available in 2019.

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