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26th November 2007
Minutes of the Culture, Arts & Leisure Committee Meeting held on Monday 26 November 2007 at 7.30 p.m. in the Council Chamber, Council Offices, 47 Derry Road, Strabane.
Present: In the Chair: Councillor T Kerrigan
Other Members: Councillors I Barr, D Breslin, J Donnell, J Emery, G Foley, D Hussey, K McGuire, C McHugh, B McMahon, E McMenamin, J McNulty, J O’Kane
In attendance: Clerk & Chief Executive, Charlie Hamilton: Chairman, John Dunbar: Vice Chairman & Florence McFarland: Development Officer - Newtownstewart Development Association, Arts Centre Manager, Administrative Officer
Apologies: Councillors A Bresland, T McBride, Head of Culture, Arts & Leisure
Councillor Breslin joined the meeting at 7.35pm and Councillor Foley joined the meeting at 7.40pm.
Newtownstewart Development Association
The Chairman welcomed the representatives of the Newtownstewart Development Association (NDA) to the meeting.
Mr Hamilton referred to the powerpoint presentation, which had been distributed to Members in advance of the meeting. He thanked Council for giving them the opportunity to address Members.
He referred to the 5-year service level agreement with Council, established since December 2001, for the provision of tourist information services at Grange Court. He added that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) had funded the refurbishment of the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) in 2002. He noted that, at the end of the 5-year period, Council had provided £1,000 funding as a contribution towards costs for 2006.
Mr Hamilton reported on the success of obtaining brown tourist signage on the Newtownstewart bypass, which he said had resulted in an increase in enquiries. He said that the TIC was used on a regular basis all year and had provided a very worthwhile service to the area.
He outlined the services provided and noted the compliance to NITB standards. He noted that the TIC provided information on tourist literature, accommodation, tourist attractions, activities available in the area, local maps and genealogy research outlets. He advised Members of the facilities available on site and the benefits of the location of the information office.
Mr Hamilton referred to the financial aspects of providing the service and noted that the annual running costs were between £7,000 - £8,000. He said that the financial projections took into account inflation at a rate of 3%. He referred to the staffing resources available at the TIC and the employment costs in addition to the other overheads relevant in providing the service.
He outlined the value for money aspects of the service provided and said that the TIC was already well established within the local community. He referred to the commitment of NDA in promoting tourism and raising the profile of the district as a place to visit. He referred to the increased demand for general and specific information and felt that this would continue to grow in years to come as a result of an improved political climate, further projects and activities in the district and increased number of visitors to the area.
Mr Hamilton confirmed that NDA was committed to providing a quality tourist facility at Grange Court, which encompassed a TIC. He said that their management and operational practices had been well established over the years and it was their wish to continue a good working partnership with Council. He said financial assistance from Council was needed and that NDA felt that a contribution from Council of £5,000 would be a fair reflection on the level of service provided.
The Chairman thanked Mr Hamilton for the presentation, which he noted was for Members’ information at this meeting. He added that further discussion and a decision on the request would be taken at a subsequent meeting. He requested Members’ views and comments on the presentation.
Councillor O’Kane welcomed the representatives and said that the presentation had been very interesting. He raised the following issues:
· Queried an aspect of the financial projections
· Accommodation facilities used by relatives who spoke very highly of them
Mr Hamilton clarified that the expenditure predictions reflected a percentage increase of the relevant costs.
Councillor McMenamin welcomed the representatives. He raised the following issues:
· Accommodation/number of bed nights/returning customers
· Valuable asset for the locality, including the restaurant
· Financial assistance from Council
Mr Hamilton confirmed that the accommodation provided 60 beds. Ms McFarland outlined the benefits and usage of the accommodation and noted that they acted as an overspill from the Ulster American Folk Park all year round in addition to other seasonal activities such as shooting parties.
Mr Hamilton confirmed that NDA was requesting a contribution of £5,000 from Council.
Councillor Emery welcomed the delegation and said he was aware of the work undertaken with promoting tourism in the area. He raised the following issue:
· Alternative ways to achieve match funding
Ms McFarland said that they were using the revenue from the accommodation to meet the full cost of the current services. She noted that there were no other sources at present for this kind of financial assistance.
Councillor Donnell welcomed the representatives and thanked them for the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Facility was a great asset to the area which he hoped would continue to grow
· Range of visitors to area
Ms McFarland confirmed that the TIC received a wide range of nationalities requesting information from directional guidance to genealogy requests.
Mr Dunbar said that the centre had attracted many American visitors. In addition to information on local tourist attractions, the TIC had seen an increase in demand for genealogy information. He said that it was important for the TIC to be manned by local people.
Mr Hamilton said that, as a businessman in Newtownstewart, the town had suffered from the implementation of the bypass. Therefore, he felt that it was even more important to get visitors off the main road by promoting all the tourism aspects of the local area. He felt that the TIC could assist in this effort to the benefit of all.
Councillor Hussey joined the meeting at 7.45pm.
Councillor Hussey apologised for missing the presentation. He congratulated the NDA for the work undertaken on a local level as well as on a wider field.
The Chairman thanked the delegation for the presentation and welcomed the foresight with the services provided at Grange Court, which had enhanced the area. He said that Council had always looked at tourism as the backbone of the economy. He felt that Members had now sought their clarification and Council would consider the issue and contact them at a later date.
Mr Hamilton thanked Council for allowing the time to make the presentation and he hoped that Members would look favourably on the request for financial assistance for the greater good of everyone concerned.
The representatives from the NDA left the meeting.
Report by Head of Culture, Arts & Leisure
The Chief Executive (CE) on behalf of the Head of Culture, Arts & Leisure (HCAL) presented the report. Arising out of the report the following was discussed.
Donemana and Glebe Soccer Pitches
The CE confirmed that the main drainage had been undertaken at the Donemana Pitch and discussions with the contractor were ongoing regarding the installation of the drainage at the Glebe.
In response to Councillor Foley, the CE said that, due to weather conditions, it would probably be March 2008 before the work could commence.
“Welcome to Northern Ireland” Signage
The CE referred to correspondence received from the NITB regarding the installation of a “Welcome to Northern Ireland” sign on the Lifford Road entry to the Strabane district.
Members’ views included the following:
· Need to see a template of the sign prior to a decision being taken
· Costing was needed
· There already was a Strabane district sign at the location
· A road safety attention sign would be beneficial
· Inclusion of other languages
· Would be beneficial for tourists
· Some tourists were accidental and perhaps a sign would deter visitors
· Other entries into the district from the Republic
· Understood there already was a sign on the Kilclean Road, Castlederg entry
The CE agreed to obtain a template of the sign and report back with appropriate costings.
Western Regional Tourism Partnership (RTP)
The CE noted that the October minutes of the Western RTP had been circulated for Members’ information.
North West Trail
The CE noted that the October minutes of the Steering Committee had been circulated for Members’ information.
The CE noted that the October minutes of the Marketing Executive in addition to the Board’s October minutes had been circulated for Members’ information.
Councillors Hussey and McNulty referred to Members who represented Council on the above groups reporting on relevant issues and decisions taken.
Councillor Emery referred to the finance received by the Council during the last financial year in relation to projects, which he said benefited large sections of the community.
Castlederg Visitors’ Centre
The CE referred to the ongoing review of the Castlederg Visitors’ Centre and proposals for its use as a tourist facility. He noted forthcoming deadlines for entries in Sperrins Tourism and NITB 2008 publications.
Councillor Hussey felt that it was important for the issue to be resolved at the earliest opportunity. He said that he had been surprised by the number of comments both from local residents and visitors to the area as to whether or not the facility was open. He hoped that Castlederg would retain the centre and felt that there were alternative uses for this type of tourist facility.
Councillor McHugh felt that a report on the ongoing review was required. He said that the matter being progressed could be hampered with the absence of the HCAL.
Councillor Barr felt that it was important not to lose sight of the issue and he also referred to the position of Gray Museum.
The CE said that he and the Community Support Officer had met with the National Trust earlier that day and the issue would be raised at the forthcoming meeting of the DCAL working group.
Destination North West (DNW)
The CE noted that DNW had been successful in securing Interreg funding to extend its cross border network initiative. He referred to the need to provide £3,079 match funding between now and spring 2008 and approval from Council was now being sought.
Councillor Hussey felt that clarification on the financial aspects was needed. He said that he had concerns about Council’s level of subsidy to the group, as it would appear that Council’s contribution was the same as Omagh and Dungannon despite those Councils being larger. He added that Council was being treated financially equal with Omagh and Dungannon despite Council’s penny rate not being the same. He felt that comparative costs with other Councils were needed.
The CE agreed to provide clarification on the financial breakdown with approval for the match funding to be reconsidered at a forthcoming meeting.
Alley Theatre - Christmas Closure
The CE outlined the proposed opening/closure arrangements for the Alley Theatre over the Christmas period as follows:
Administration Office - closed 24 December 2007 to 1 January 2008 inclusive and the Box Office/Tourist Information - closed on 24, 25, 26, 31 December 2007 and 1 January 2008
Councillor McHugh proposed the approval of the recommended closure. Councillor Breslin seconded the proposal.
Members’ views included the following:
· Not in favour of the closure arrangements given that it was a time for families to return home and the theatre would not be accessible to the public on key dates
· Staff were entitled to spend time with their families
· Entertainment acts would certainly be available to perform on the nights that it was proposed to close
· Queried if staff had decided to avoid taking bookings on those nights, therefore pre-empting Council’s decision
· Acts performing on Christmas Day would be out of the equation but New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day would be popular days for performances
· Staff worked hard all year and should have time off over the festive period
· Comparisons with closures in other theatres/centres in Omagh, L’Derry and Fermanagh
· The theatre was a business and would be closed at the busiest time of year
· Appearance that staff had been discouraging bookings on those days with Council being presenting with a fait accompli
· Performers would not be available at this late stage and therefore, the situation could not be changed this year
Councillor Hussey proposed an addendum to examine opening hours for future holiday periods. Councillor McHugh, the proposer of the original motion did not accept the addendum and wished the proposal to stand. Councillor Hussey subsequently withdrew the addendum.
In response to Members’ queries, the CE noted that entertainment acts were booked months in advance and there certainly was nothing connived from members of staff in relation to the proposed closure. He said that the programme of events at the theatre was always presented to Council for their consideration and approval in advance and Members had the opportunity at that stage to address relevant issues. He said that Members’ concerns would be taken on board and he would liaise with the Arts Centre Manager on these.
The proposal to accept the recommended Christmas closure was agreed with 2 abstentions.
Councillor Hussey proposed that the statutory day for closing for Council facilities be recognised as Christmas Day and, given the need for the early booking of entertainment acts, only this closure should now be considered for the Alley Theatre in future.
Councillor McMenamin seconded the proposal.
Councillors O’Kane and Emery noted that Members had the opportunity of seeing the programme of events in advance and Council would make any decision of opening or closing on that basis.
Councillor Hussey withdrew the proposal and felt that it was important for those responsible for booking acts to be proactive for important calendar dates.
The Chairman felt that Members’ concerns had been highlighted for next year.
Active Citizen Programme
The CE noted that Members had previously sought additional information as outlined in the report, on the programme to be run in conjunction with the Community Development Learning Initiative. He noted that it was proposed to run 2 courses for 15 participants each at a total cost of £3,390. He added that the personal development programme would target all community activists across the district area, particularly in areas of multiple deprivation and would support the implementation of local neighbourhood community development actions.
Councillor Breslin highlighted the need to include the South Ward, in particular the Carlton Drive area in such programmes.
Councillor McNulty declared an interest as a representative of the LSP Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership.
On the proposal of Councillor Emery, seconded by Councillor O’Kane the programme and associated costs were approved.
Clady Hall – request by Karate Club
The CE referred to correspondence from Shotokan Karate Club seeking permission to erect a new sign on the Clady Hall building.
Councillor McMenamin declared an interest.
Members’ views included the following:
· Setting a precedent for other clubs that use the hall to have signs erected
· Another karate club also used the hall
· The hall was a community building and should be displayed as such, giving no preference to one group or another
· One sign i.e. Clady Community Hall was sufficient
· Clady Community Association had the hall leased from Council
· A site meeting would allow views to be put forward
Councillor McMenamin proposed that Council agree to the request for the sign to be erected. No seconder was secured and therefore the proposal was lost.
Councillor Breslin proposed that a site meeting be held to discuss the issue. Councillor Barr seconded the proposal. A vote was taken and with 3 votes for, 4 against and 4 abstentions, the proposal was lost.
Councillor McNulty left the meeting at 8.35pm.
Following further discussion, it was agreed that the matter should be referred to the Community Association as they leased the building.
Leisure And Sports Development
Riversdale Leisure Centre
The CE noted that the annual maintenance arrangements would mean the centre would be closed from 24-26 December 2007 inclusive. He added that all areas would be available for use with the exception of the learner pool, which would be closed from 17 December 2007 to 6 January 2008 inclusive in order to carry out necessary filtration and tiling re-grouting work.
Council Sports Awards Night
The CE reported that Council planned to co-host the annual ‘People First’ sports awards night in partnership with the Sports Forum in March 2008 with the event costing approximately £5,000 in total. It was recommended that £3,000 be made available from the sports development budget with the Sports Forum seeking to secure additional sponsorship as a means of match funding.
On the proposal of Councillor McMenamin, seconded by Councillor Breslin the event and associated costs were agreed.
Councillor Breslin felt that the event should be held at the Alley Theatre again.
In response to Councillor Barr, the CE said that clarification would be sought on arrangements for the community aspect of the People First Awards.
Strabane District Sports Forum
The CE noted that the ratified September minutes of the Forum together with the draft October minutes had been circulated for Members’ information.
Ballyfatten Park Development
The CE noted that Council, in partnership with Sion Swifts FC had recently completed a £94,722.60 re-development of the Ballyfatten Park site in Sion Mills. He added that the facility would soon be officially launched.
In response to Councillor Hussey, the CE confirmed that the development had been undertaken in partnership.
Councillor Barr believed that the land had been signed over from the NI Housing Executive.
Dergview Football Club - Funding Request
The CE referred to correspondence received from Dergview FC in relation to the development of their current facility to comply with the Irish Football Association’s (IFA) facility regulations. He noted for Members’ attention that it was not Council policy to accept individual requests for funding outside of the standard funding programmes.
In response to a query from Councillor Emery relating to match funding, the CE said that there was currently no call out for capital funding in order to consider a match-funding proposal.
Councillor Emery referred to funding allocated and not used under the Sports Development Capital Grants. The CE advised that a sub committee was being set up to discuss that issue. He added that, in any event, a call out to clubs would have to be undertaken.
Councillor Hussey declared an interest as a supporter of the club and a previous official. He noted that Dergview was the most senior club in the district and indeed in West Tyrone and was the only club playing in the Irish league. He noted that the club had made its own way for many years, establishing its own ground and committing substantial funding.
The Chairman noted that the item would be deferred until the sub committee on freeing up Sports Development Capital Grants had met.
Community Safety Partnership
The CE noted that the September minutes of had been circulated for Members’ information.
On the proposal of Councillor McMenamin, seconded by Councillor McHugh the report was adopted.
Any Other Business
Town Centre De-Pedestrianisation
The CE reported that a meeting had been arranged for 29 November 2007 at 12 noon for Members to discuss the issue in more detail. It was felt that it would be beneficial to meet on site at Castle Street followed by a meeting room at the Alley Theatre.
Councillor Breslin, McMenamin and McMahon gave their apologies.
Councillor Barr noted that although the original proposal had been for the Mourne Councillors to meet, it was subsequently agreed that the meeting be open to all Members.
Townsend Street and Canal
The CE advised Members that 4 December 2007 was the most suitable date to hold site meetings regarding the riverbank at Townsend Street and a visit to the canal. It was agreed to meet at Townsend Street at 9.30am followed by the Canal at 10.30am.
Christmas Lights Switch Ons
The CE noted that the current list of invitations for Members to attend Switch On events had been distributed.
On the proposal of Councillor Hussey, seconded by Councillor Breslin it was agreed that any Member and Officer could attend the seminar on the implications of customer services on Councils, Councillors and Customers. It was noted that the seminar would be held on 13 December 2007 in Belfast and was free of charge.
The CE noted that details of a temporary road closure at Melmount Road/Bellspark Road/Peacock Road, Sion Mills on 1 and 2 December 2007 had been distributed for Members’ information.
Councillor Foley said that he was aware that business people from Sion Mills had raised objections on this matter with Roads Service and were awaiting feedback.
The CE said that clarification would be sought from Roads Service on the matter although he was unclear if the planned closure could be changed given that it was scheduled for the forthcoming weekend.
On the proposal of Councillor Foley, seconded by Councillor Emery, the meeting went ‘into committee’.
The meeting concluded at 9.40pm.