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25th October 1999
Minutes of Special Meeting of the Council held in the Chamber, Council Offices, 47 Derry Road, Strabane on Monday 25th October 1999 at 7.30pm.
Present:- In the Chair: Cllr. I. Murtagh Other Members: Cllrs. I. Barr, Mrs. A. Bell, J. Donnell, T. Kerrigan, T. McBride, C. McHugh, E. McMenamin, J. McNulty, J. O’Kane, E. Turner MBE. Total = 11
In Attendance: Clerk & Chief Executive
Economic Development Officer
Group 22 Officials:-
Mr C. Nicell, Performance Engineer
Mr R. Sterling, Managing Director
Apology: Cllr. D. Hussey.
Group 22 – Gas to the North/North West
The Chairman welcomed the representatives from Group 22 and introduced them to the members. He then invited them to make their presentation, following which members could voice their comments or seek points of clarification.
Mr Nicell introduced himself as the Company’s Performance Engineer and proceeded to present his report with the aid of a multi-media presentation.
Mr Nicell outlined the present position of the programme and explained that Group 22 have been campaigning strongly seeking to secure an expansion of natural gas availability to the North and North West. This development would deliver a gas pipeline along a corridor running close to the Districts of Ballymena, Limavady, Derry and Strabane Council areas. The pipeline would also secure a new gas fired power station at Coolkeeragh. Group 22 also seek to secure gas availability into Donegal.
Mr Nicell gave a brief outline of the history of the company and how after privatisation in 1992 the business had to survive and by accomplishing this the following strategy was developed:
Run a successful company
Create a vision for the future
Exit route for venture capitalists
Attract appropriate new partner
The Strategy was accomplished and Coolkeeragh became a successful business once again. Venture Capitalists who demanded a high return were removed and a new partner was attracted and as a result ESB now has 40% shareholding which creates long term stability for the future. He further explained that the issue is not only about saving jobs but about looking at the bigger picture, if the Coolkeeragh Power Station goes there will be no Gas Pipeline and this will have major implications for the economy of the North West.
He stated that Gas Fired Power Stations are more environmentally friendly and are a cheaper source of energy than that of dirty fuels which at present are uneconomical. So it is therefore imperative that the Power Station remains open or the chances of transporting gas will be abolished.
He presented a location map indicating 2 electricity networks in the North and South and explained that there is also a weaker power supply in Donegal due to their remoteness from the Power Stations. He added that this results in lack of investment interest which has encouraged Group 22 to plug the gap between the electricity infrastructure North and South and, therefore, strengthen the network within the North West.
At this stage of the presentation Mr Sterling, Managing Director of Group 22 took over from Mr Nicell and informed those present of his involvement with the Company and also his membership of the Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Sterling brought the members up to date with the current process and debate between NI Infrastructure and the Republic of Ireland and added that unfortunately the Political situation reflects a lot upon the development of the programme.
He referred to energy vision for NI for the future and the two tracks to the future. He explained that there is the slow track which following the DED response to Strategy 2010 energy recommendations proposed the following:
New all island energy steering group.
First report to NI Assembly Feb. 2001
Discussion, decision on way forward.
Implementation when? Beyond 2001.
Group 22 believe that this proposal is too slow and sacrifices what is achievable now.
He continued to explain the fast track option which will provide gas to the N/NW and support the development of a new gas fired power station at Coolkeeragh and will also benefit the following:-
Fit with Regional Development
Provide logical order of prioritization for enery investments
Benefit to region flow immediately/follow on investment programme
Secure main transmission line
Major step towards development of downstream market.
He outlined to the members what fast track will capture and explained that slow track will jeopardize all of this.
He reiterated previous comments made by Mr Nicell that Natural Gas is the key to:-
Low electricity prices.
A cleaner environment
An alternative to Climate Change Levy
Improved industrial competitiveness
Increased economic activity
Mr Sterling in his conclusion highlighted the barriers of promoting the programme and added that climate change levy could endanger the project. He emphasised that the following must be done:-
EU must be lobbied to support natural gas expansion.
Government must be encouraged to take ‘the gas track’.
CCL derogation required to allow gas industry to develop.
Mr Sterling thanked those present for the opportunity to make his presentation and invited the members to seek any points of clarification.
Councillor Murtagh welcomed the delegation and thanked them for their enlightening presentation.
Councillor Kerrigan also welcomed the delegation. He referred to the map which had indicated a dotted line to Strabane instead of a full line and queried the reason for same. He expressed his fears that Strabane will be left behind even though Council is supportive of the fight to transport Gas to the district.
In response to Councillor Kerrigan Mr Sterling advised that this indicated the main line to the Coolkeeragh Power Station known as the transmission spine, if this is not secured the operation will be lost. If the Regulator attempts to seek to develop all down stream networks the process will be slowed down. This will affect in particular Strabane as it will have a longer transmission span than other towns. He assured the members that Group 22 are continuing to promote Strabane and Donegal.
Councillor McMenamin commented that is was imperative that industry has two options of using either electricity or gas. He queried whether it will be a major cost to the consumer to convert to gas and added that he is aware of an industry who wish to remain using oil.
Mr Sterling in response to Councillor McMenamin advised that with regard to cost of domestic supply, Foyle Regional Energy Efficiency did carry out an Audit based in the Derry area earlier in the year. The Audit investigated the benefits of moving to Natural Gas usage and moving from existing resources. The result was a saving of £180 per household. He further indicated that major industries eg. Dupont, Michelin and Gallaghers are anxious to convert to gas as it will enable more efficient technologies to be introduced. Gas companies will offer businesses or industries a long term financial period for the cost to switch which will not add much of an increment.
Councillor O’Kane said that he would be supportive of a new gas fired power station at Coolkeeragh but had concerns that if this was successful would the fight have to continue for transportation to Strabane and sought assurance on this.
Mr Sterling in response to Councillor O’Kane advised that at this stage the Regulator who is in control of the situation has issued invitations to 3 major companies to bid for the transportation of gas to the North West. The licence application did not include any of the tours along the route. He advised that all communities will be fighting for gas and it will be a question of economics, and size, the greater industrial load the greater the demand will be. He further added that Councils will have to build a relationship with the Gas companies to determine business opportunity.
Councillor O’Kane said that Mr Sterling’s response to some of the queries has made his fears more realistic and he would advise that a feasibility study be carried out to determine viability. In response to this suggestion Mr Sterling said that he would feel that it would be in Strabane’s best interest to join forces with Donegal and bring gas to Strabane and Letterkenny.
Councillor McBride welcomed the group and commended them on their presentation. On behalf of Councillor Hussey who was absent from the meeting he queried the cost of gas in terms of distribution to industry as he was interested in the effect of the climate change levy on gas as it has been hit even though it is a clean fuel. He further added that he hopes this is not another method of collecting taxes and reiterated comments made by Councillor O’Kane regarding the importance of transportation of gas to Strabane if Coolkeeragh is successful.
Mr Sterling compared the effect of the mature gas industry in England and Wales on the generation costs of electricity and pointed out that even though there is an immature industry in NI the Chancellor has not made any special concession.
Councillor Turner welcomed the group and reiterated comments made previously regarding the dotted line effect and how it makes one wonder where Strabane will be placed. He emphasised the importance of involvement throughout the whole process. He further commented on the direction taken to Coolkeeragh and how it seemed more obvious to take a shorter route along the Sperrins which would have included Strabane.
Councillor Barr welcomed the delegation and voiced support of the Group 22 initiative and reiterated comments made by Councillor O’Kane previously regarding the continuation of the fight for the provision of pipelines to Strabane. He added that Powergen compiled a feasibility study which included Derry and no mention of Strabane which creates an element of fear. It is therefore important for Strabane Council to become actively involved and to engage in discussions with other Councils seeking their support with the campaign.
Councillor McMenamin on a point of information queried who was responsible for the provision of gas to the ordinary consumer. In response Mr Sterling advised that this fine detail has not been decided. There may be a possibility that a consortia of companies will be responsible for the provision of gas to the individual communities. In the Greater Belfast area Pheonix Natural Gas were responsible.
Councillor Murtagh commented on the existing infrastructure in the Republic of Ireland and referred to Dundalk which has gas 28 miles west to Bailieborough and queried at what distance gas transmission becomes uneconomical.
In response Mr Sterling advised that the Regulator had decided that no matter what the distance the cost would be the same. The consumer from the NW would pay the same as the consumer from the NE.
Councillor McHugh sought clarification on the interest from Donegal. In response Mr Sterling indicated that Donegal are active at present and have identified that energy is a fundamental element of a strong economy. He further added that perhaps the cross border aspect would have moved on if there had been much more interest. In terms of the two Governments it is a regional issue.
The Chief Executive emphasised that it was important that Council continued to support Group 22 in its effort to bring Natural Gas to the North West including Strabane. He recognised that this presented a major challenge and required collaboration with Donegal and ongoing support from Group 22 even after gas to Coolkeeragh has been achieved. He further added that there are many issues to be addressed in terms of economics but similar challenges existed for each community along the route. He advised that at this stage the priority must be to bring the gas to Coolkeeragh. Discussion ensued after which it was unanimously agreed on the proposal of Councillor O’Kane, seconded by Councillor Turner that Council support the Group 22 response to the Minister in relation to the DED response to the Energy recommendations in Strategy 2010 with particular emphasis on the Climate Change Levy and bringing Gas to the N/NW.
It was agreed on the proposal of Councillor O’Kane seconded by Councillor Donnell that the Council send a letter of sympathy to Patricia McNulty, Committee Clerk, on the death of her father.
EU Structural Funds 2000-2006
The Chief Executive referred to the above details of which were previously circulated. He reminded members that over the past weeks extensive amounts of information on the EU Structural Funds have been forwarded to members as it became available and that a submission was due by the 31st October 1999. He then invited the EDO to summarise key points on the Structural Funds.
The EDO gave a brief outline of the Local Government Proposal in preparing for the next round of Structural Funds. She added that it is important to recognise significant changes in the regional and European environment, i.e. proliferation of initiatives and ideas which have revealed a great energy at local level. There is the assumption of a structured inter-relationship between elements supported by EU funding in Community Development, Community Economic Development, Local Economic Development and Regional Development. Councils have demonstrated sufficient maturity in the way they have handled the local Economic Development measures to date and have identified the capacity at all levels to respond to the challenges presented.
The EDO gave a brief summary of the collective response of all 26 Councils expressed through workshops and meetings. She indicated to the members that the end of October was the submission date for the Transitional Objective 1 Programme and the Peace II Programme. From the date of submission, there will be a 5 month negotiating period with the EC before full agreement.
The EDO informed the members that there was discussion between NICE and DFP regarding the reason why it mattered which programme Council monies were derived from. To make an effective contribution, Local Government cannot be sidelined, it needs to be part of mainstream funding and as such locally based Regeneration and Development Strategies. Priority should be supported from the Transition Objective I Programme.
The EDO referred to delivery mechanisms outlined in the report where it was agreed that Councils would facilitate the development of local integrated strategies with a range of local interests inputting to the model. The prevalent view was that primacy should be given to local representatives who would play a lead role with a fuller partnership and clearer accountability.
The following actions were agreed:-
NICE – to organise and facilitate a further meeting with the Minister and Local Government.
DFP – to make available its paper on delivery mechanisms.
DFP – to provide an outline of the schedule for agreement of the Plan and ongoing consultation.
DFP – to make available their thought on the structure and role of the Monitoring Committees.
The Minister should be asked to respond, probably at the meeting referred to in Action 1, to the Local Government Paper, particularly Section 5 ‘Essential Requirements’.
The Chief Executive commented that the EDO has drawn attention to a number of important issues. This was a recognition of the lead role Councils should take. It is intended that Councils will prepare local area strategies which will introduce clear recognition of a civic leadership role of local Councils which is important. The CE added that it was unfortunate that DFP were insisting that funding would be provided by the Peace II Programme rather than the Transition Objective I Programme.
The CE referred to the response which is required to move forward and emphasised the importance for Council to indicate strongly that integrated local development should be funded more main stream than that of specific programmes. He anticipated that Councils will take a lead role in developing local strategies but there will be active involvement of District Partnerships and other agencies.
In response to Councillor Turner’s query regarding type of funding available, the CE clarified that there is £850 million available and at this stage only themes have been established. The detail of the programmes and application arrangements will come later.
Councillor Turner further added that in terms of Councils greater role it was imperative that this suggestion be incorporated and delivered. Councillor Murtagh concurred with Councillor Turner’s comments and queried whether this would give Council and the District more power when negotiating with IDB and LEDU.
The EDO in response to comments, clarified that in terms of power the role of local Councils has become much more accepted in Economic Development. LEDU and IDB can pull down Transition Funds as a right and Councils are quite properly aiming to become funded from the main stream programme.
Councillor Turner enquired if it will be necessary for Council to make an application for funding or will a certain amount of money be allocated. In response, the CE assumes that an Action Plan will need to be prepared and submitted to the appropriate Department to draw down European Support.
Councillor McBride enquired if there was an attempt to deem NI as a Cross Border Region and would the effects of this be damaging. In response the CE indicated that this particular argument could emerge under the Interreg Programme where some have argued that all of Northern Ireland could be deemed to be a cross border region.
Councillor McBride welcomed the attempt to encourage Councils to become involved with Economic Development. He further added that there are numerous groups getting involved under various umbrellas which could create a serious problem with lack of co-ordination.
The CE indicated to the members that a co-ordinated response will have to be completed this week to be submitted to the Department of Finance and Personnel. This will be an opportunity for Council to log concerns and the negotiating process will still continue.
Discussion ensued after which it was unanimously agreed on the proposal of Councillor O’Kane, seconded by Councillor McBride that a response be drawn up and submitted.
EU Structural Funds –
Proposal for Development of a Water Based Tourism Programme
The Chief Executive referred to the above document previously circulated, from the Department of Agriculture. He explained that Departments across the NI Civil Service are preparing to implement new EU Structural Fund Programmes for the period 2000-2006. Public consultation is an important part of the process in determining what programmes might be included. On that basis Fisheries Division and Rivers Agency have jointly prepared the above proposal for inclusion of a Water Based Tourism programme in the new plan.
He referred to the proposal in the document that refers to a water based tourism programme which may encompass the following sub-programmes:-
An Angling Development Programme
A Waterways Restoration Programme
A Water Recreation Development Programme.
He advised that this particular programme is of relevance to the District, as it is an opportunity to improve the Angling potential and promote Water Recreation.
Councillor Turner commented that he had attended a presentation on Waterways in Portadown and noted that the Strabane Canal had not been included as part of the strategic waterways. He further commented on the success of the Erne Shannon Waterway, even though it had been a most expensive capital project initially. Once opened it was designated a ‘white elephant’ by some people, but now from the tourist point of view huge benefits were being gained by the region.
The Chief Executive concurred with comments made and added that walking and simple passive leisure pursuits are regarded as equally important as visits of the water itself. In addition abandoned waterways such as the Strabane Canal have very powerful environmental and heritage value. He emphasised that the proposal contained a lot of good material and suggested it was encouraging to see Local Authorities given the opportunity to become involved with the Waterways.
Councillor Kerrigan agreed with the Chief Executive’s sentiments and referred to the Castlederg area which could avail of the Angling Development Programme. He futher added that various areas could be developed apart from the 3 proposals listed as there is potential in the Strabane District. He referred to Oxford Island located off the M1 Motorway and how resourceful it has become.
Councillor Turner also referred to the various tourist pursuits that the Sperrin Tourism Ltd. offers and suggested that it would be beneficial if this body could be considered as part of the proposal. He further informed member that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will be allocating funding for 3 products, i.e. Professional Angling and other Fishing pursuits. The product body intends to carry out an Audit and a report of the meetings will be forwarded to the Council.
Councillor O’Kane agreed with comments made. He referred to the document and highlighted the promotion of social inclusion. He expressed concern that the rural community is not given the support from Planners to create new businesses which is an ongoing argument at present.
Councillor McBride welcomed the document and remarked on how easy it was to digest as compared to lengthier proposals. He referred to the 3 proposals highlighted, and said that this was an opportunity to seek funding towards improving the waterways and is imperative that Council agree to support the programme as there is recognition of its importance for the future.
Councillor Murtagh indicated that improvements may take up to 10 years to be implemented. Councillor O’Kane emphasised the necessity for Council to act now when funding is available.
Councillor Barr raised the issue of the re-opening of the Strabane Canal which is one of the local best coarse fishing waterways.
The Chief Executive said that he would consider all comments raised and advised that the Department of Agriculture’s intention is to have the programme developed and submitted as part of the Structural Funds proposal. If adopted the Programme would provide the opportunity to support development of the Strabane Canal but there would be a requirement for match funding.
Discussion ensued after which it was unanimously agreed on the proposal of Councillor Barr, seconded by Councillor McBride that Council support the programme and local projects be included.
Councillor Turner advised that the programme should run in tandem with what has been identified already, in particular regarding rivers and lakes. He further added that the product market has to be developed. He reflected back to when fishing alone provided business for two hotels in Newtownstewart.
Derg Castle, Castlederg
Councillor McHugh requested that the area behind Derg Castle be cleaned up. The CE agreed to bring the matter to the attention of the Chief Technical Officer for action.
The Meeting concluded at 10.25pm.
DATED this 25th day of October 1999
Clerk & Chief Executive
DATED this 9th day of November 1999
Chairman of the Council