Community groups are set to benefit from cash that had originally been earmarked for Craigavon Council’s legacy celebrations.
The turnaround was made official at Monday’s council meeting when councillors were all in agreement the £50,000 would be better spent on communities.
The item had been due to be discussed under confidential business, but that was waived after councillors argued their intentions needed to be made public.
The proposals to spend the money on a number of lavish events had been revealed in the ‘MAIL’ in December and hadn’t gone down well with the public.
Reacting to the negative comments about the proposed £50,000 spend on civic receptions, video diaries, history exhibitions and a further £25,000 spend on a fireworks display, DUP group leader on Craigavon Council Carla Lockhart vowed her party would oppose the spend.
Although they’d been told by Development Director Olga Murtagh that the timescale meant there was no scope to deliver a grant-aid scheme to community groups, councillors insisted that everything in their power was done to make it happen.
DUP Councillor Robert Smith said: “It’s been a mammoth task and we appreciate the officers’ work.”
However, he added: “To say we missed a deadline by six days is ridiculous. If we want to make this happen we can.”
“A lot of community groups would really benefit,” said Councillor Joe Nelson of the SDLP.
DUP Councillor Darryn Causby commented: “We’re taking money out of one box to put into another. I know I make it sound incredibly simple... because it is.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Gemma McKenna agreed that the money would be of real benefit to the communities.
She said the longest part of the process needed to be the time allowed for community groups to apply for grants.
Council’s Director of Leisure Services Stephen Fraser pointed out that if £5,500 was set aside for the legacy publication of the Craigavon new town for its 50th anniversary, then this would be boosted by a further £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery.
Councillors were in agreement that this was to be permitted, with some reasoning that it still came under the community umbrella.
DUP Alderman Carla Lockhart said: “Our party was the party that initiated sending this £50,000 back and using it as community grants.
“I know it’s going to be tight, but I really do believe that this money should go right to the heart of communities.”
Director of Development Olga Murtagh said: “Officers will work to deliver this process if that’s what members want.”
It reached the point where £35,000 of the £50,000 was to be spent on communities, though the DUP weren’t prepared to stop until all the money would be spent on community groups.
It was agreed a £3,000 spend for a video diary of the last days of Craigavon Council would be scrapped, though there was a minor wrangle over a £1,500 on a history exhibition.
Alderman Arnold Hatch was very keen for the exhibition to go ahead, but after being assured it could be covered by grant funding, he let it go.
It was agreed by all councillors that the £44,500 would be given to community groups with £5,500 going towards the Heritage Lottery match funded new town project.