Report on the Regeneration Bill (NIA Bill 43/11-16)

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 28 May 2015

Reference: Mandate 2011/16 Thirteenth Report

ISBN: 978-0-339-60583-1

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/16 Thirteenth Report

Report-on-the-Regeneration-Bill.pdf (17.9 mb)

Executive Summary

The Regeneration Bill confers certain regeneration and community development powers on, and transfer of certain functions relating to Laganside, to the new district councils. The Department will continue to exercise policy responsibility for the powers and functions that are proposed to be transferred. Councils will have a statutory duty to have regard to guidance issued by the Department in respect of these powers and functions. The Bill does not confer an obligation on councils to continue delivering any existing DSD programmes.

Central to the Committee’s consideration and which became a critical issue, were concerns raised by some members that regeneration should be centered on economic regeneration rather than social need. The Committee divided on a motion but ultimately agreed to ask the Department to amend clause 1 by removing reference to ‘social need’ and replacing it with ‘economic regeneration’.

The Minister subsequently responded to the Committee rejecting the proposed amendment as he believed it “would have the effect of ruling out Council’s involvement in tackling social need and would leave this responsibility with the Department”. The Minister proposed an amendment which included reference to economic regeneration. The Minister’s amendment can be found on page 9 of this report.

The Committee rejected the Minister’s amendment and agreed, by majority, the following amended clause:

Clause 1: Financial assistance to address social need

1.-(1) A council may provide financial assistance to any person doing or intending to do, anything which the council considers will promote economic and/or social regeneration in an area in its district.

(2) In particular financial assistance may be provided under this section for-

(a) the promotion, development or regeneration of commercial, industrial or other economic or social regeneration activities,

(b) the improvement of the environment,

(c) the provision of housing,

(d) the provision of social or community facilities, or

(e) the refurbishment or restructuring of buildings.

(3) Financial assistance under this section may include-

(a) grants;

(b) loans;

(c) guarantees;

(d) the taking of any interest in property or in a body corporate.

Financial assistance under this section for the provision of housing requires the approval of the Department.

The Committee also discussed whether clause 1 should be amended to prevent a council from assisting a project that sought to promote or refer to an individual with a serious criminal conviction as defined in Section 5 of the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

The Committee proposed an amendment to this effect which the Minister subsequently rejected on the basis that he was concerned about “the explicit linking of the provision to another piece of legislation which may in the future be repealed or amended in a way which has unintended effects on the Regeneration Bill”.

However, the Committee subsequently agreed, by majority, the following amendment:

At end of Clause 1 insert:

No assisted project may, by title or content or in any way, promote or refer to anyone with a serious criminal conviction, as defined in Section 5 of the Civil Service (Special Advisers) Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

The Committee welcomed the Minister’s acceptance of the Committee’s recommendation to amend clauses 6(2), 11(2) and 11(6) to include a requirement that councils also publish notices on their websites and that this will also be made clear in guidance from the Department.

The Committee noted that the Department did not provide a delegated powers memorandum and therefore the Examiner of Statutory Rules did not have the opportunity to examine this.

Recommendations

The Committee recommends that the Department provides guidance to councils in order to encourage them to work together on regionally important schemes rather than the approach, detailed in clause 5(2), of having the Department direct a council to prepare such a development scheme or the Department prepare a development scheme as per clause 13.

That the Department for Social Development establishes a permanent mechanism to discuss with the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development how they can implement a consistent approach to tackle social need across all council areas taking into account the policy objectives projects of both departments in respect of social deprivation.

The Committee recommends that the Minister gives further consideration to introducing a qualified majority voting clause to the Bill to ensure that controversial decisions, which could adversely affect community relations, are not made.

The Committee recommends that the Minister considers ways in which timely information can be provided to investors which sets out the critical steps to be taken, how long they might take and the impact on the timescales of a live development project.

Download the full report here.

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