Britain agrees new economic plan for North

Executive will be able to borrow an extra £100m to fund housing and schools


A Northern Ireland economic plan, agreed after months of talks between the Stormont and Downing Street, will play a significant role in reviving its fortunes, British prime minister David Cameron has said.

The Northern Irelaand Executive will be able to borrow an extra £100m to fund housing and schools that will be used by both sides of the community under the so-called “shared future” programme agreed earlier this year between the NI parties.

Much of the money mentioned in the document unveiled at Downing Street yesterday is not additional spending, but Mr Cameron insisted that “there is real detail in here that wasn’t here before”.

“It is quite hard to put a price on it. If you have a shared future and shared campuses, if you take down peace walls and if you make sure that resources are used across the community that can save millions and millions of pounds over time,” he told reporters.

Peace walls are to be “ultimately” eliminated by 2023, while extra efforts will be made to boost Northern Ireland’s private sector, which is currently too weak.

There will also be 10 shared school campuses and 10 shared housing estates

NI will retain “assisted area status” for the medium term “at least”, which will allow London to continue grants for factories setting up there - a factor that helped Invest NI to attract 3,000 jobs in the last three months alone.

The Executive will bid to cut the red-tape facing businesses, while £20m will be invested in research and development, particularly aerospace.

Meanwhile, extra fiscal powers could be devolved to the Executive after late 2014.

Questioned about changes to corporation tax, which Downing Street has refused to consider this side of the Scottish referendum in September 2014, Mr Cameron said they had agreed the means to implement cuts if London “decides to devolve those powers”.

Extra business lending will be encouraged by extending the £117m Start-Up Loans Scheme in NI and piloting of a new version of the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme with a NI bank, according to the document, ‘Building a Prosperous and United Community’.

Urging people in NI not to think in terms of getting extra money from London, NI First Minister Peter Robinson said: “The way forward for NI is to become less dependent, to grow our economy, to stimulate our economy to create jobs, so policy levers, fiscal measures are just as important as any additional funds that we might get.”

Saying that he hoped next week’s G8 will be “the most peaceful” in its history, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness urged people planning to come to NI to protest to “respect our peace process, that they will respect our peace”.

“People feel strongly about many issues, such as war in the world, such as conflict, such as hunger and 3m dying every year and the whole issue of inequality and taxation. And I feel as strongly about those issues as anybody else, but the way to deal with is to demonstrate peacefully,” he said.

Houses and lands owned by the Ministry of Defence could be transferred to the Executive, drawing on the experience of a property unit run in London which has, it is claimed, saved £1 billion by selling off unneeded land and buildings since 2010.

The British government will help to assist the Irish Government’s visa bio-metric programme, which “should enable a long-term and ground-breaking way forward on a reciprocal visa arrangement” between the UK and the Republic.

Subject to safeguards, a pilot programme will be run that will permit visitors from countries to enter Northern Ireland and Britain using an Irish visit visa without the need for a separate UK visa to boost travel by “legitimate visitors”. Currently, Dublin accepts UK entry visas from visitors from 17 countries.

The British Gvernment and the Executive will investigate the possibility of getting the United States to establish an immigration, customs and agricultural checks base at Belfast International Airport, similar to the ones already operating in Dublin and Shannon.