Following the last local elections, Sinn Féin increased its vote across the city and increased its representation by electing two additional councillors. This brought our representation to 16, making Sinn Féin the biggest single party in Belfast City Hall.
In this term our team are determined to deliver for the communities we represent and to continue to build on the good work done to date. Since the election we have been pushing the Council, including officials and other elected representatives, to agree a substantial citywide investment package that will assist in regenerating communities and create jobs.
While the Council would not have the type of finance and resources available to central government, it does nonetheless have a considerable budget that if used and directed in a targeted manner could create jobs, stimulate additional private investment and help tackle inequality and disadvantage.
So far those discussions and our efforts have secured a ten million pound investment in playing pitch provision across the city over the next three years, including a £1.5 million investment in a state-of-the-art 3G all-weather pitch, fencing and floodlighting as well as modern changing facilities in the Falls Park. This very substantial investment is only the first instalment in a longer term investment strategy designed to redress the legacy of neglect, particularly in respect of GAA playing pitch provision, experienced by the nationalist community across Belfast. Tus maith ach nios mo a bheith deanta.
Following on from the £6.5 million investment in the Falls Leisure Centre, the Sinn Féin Council team has also managed to secure a £1 million investment, to be matched with an additional £1 million from central government, for Dunville Park. A similar amount, £2 million, is to be invested in Woodvale Park at the top of the Shankill Road. The work to build a modern, attractive and safe public park in the heart of the Falls will begin early in 2012.
Over the course of next year the Council will invest an additional £670k in improving and upgrading our children’s play parks, starting with Glassmullan playground in Andersonstown and Horn Drive playground in Lenadoon.
Across the city we have also secured an agreement to invest an additional £900k in alleygating, helping make many more homes and local communities much safer and cleaner.
The Council is also now committed to investing an additional £600k in improving our main arterial routes, beginning with the Grosvenor Road in the New Year, providing new and improved shop fronts and pedestrian areas, including new lamplighting and trees.
The Council has also agreed to set aside £2.5 million to be spent on local initiatives and projects across the city over the course of the coming year. This Local Investment Fund will help a significant number of community-based projects spread across West Belfast.
Of course we are pushing the Council to invest in and support larger-scale projects that will create a significant number of sustainable jobs in West Belfast, such as the New Casement Stadium project and the Springvale Business Park at the Flush bend on the Springfield Road. The Council has applied to Europe for a £4 million grant and has been in discussion with Invest NI for an additional £2 million to match £2 million of Council funds for the Springfield Road project. Both of these projects have the capacity to generate hundreds of new jobs for the citizens of Belfast.
Our ambitions for the city and for West Belfast are considerable and so intensive discussions are taking place on a range of other projects and initiatives.
Sinn Féin in City Hall are arguing for a substantial investment in the Gaeltacht Quarter, to support the Irish language and create jobs.
We have argued for the establishment of a citywide bursary scheme to assist the unemployed and those individuals on low incomes get back into training and education and improve their employability. We have argued for the establishment of a package of support measures and initiatives for our small businesses and local entrepreneurs, such as direct financial support for traders’ associations, a micro finance lending scheme to support start-up companies. We have lobbied Stormont to consider rate relief schemes, particularly for our hard-pressed local shop owners and new start-up businesses creating new jobs within our communities.
We have argued for strong social clauses that will guarantee local people jobs and apprenticeships for our young people, when large projects such as Casement and Springvale begin.
We are absolutely determined to deliver for the people who elected us in May of this year. Our investment package is still a work in progress but we hope to agree and launch the package early next year.
Every single day in Council we are arguing for real and substantial investment in our communities but there is strong opposition from other parties, not least the unionists.
With your support we can overcome this opposition. While Sinn Féin has become the biggest party in Belfast City Council, we do not have a majority, yet! With more support and additional representation we could do so much more and deliver so much more for the people of West Belfast.
n Jim Mc Veigh is the Sinn Féin leader on Belfast City Council.