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House of Commons Hansard
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03 July 2019
Volume 662
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6. What comparative assessment she has made of the scope of city deals in Northern Ireland. [911629]

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The hon. Gentleman will know that, in line with our 2017 manifesto commitment, we have already announced two city deals in Northern Ireland, with £350 million for Belfast and a combined package of £105 million for Derry/Londonderry and Strabane. Early-stage discussions have also begun with other councils in the mid, south and west, as well as Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

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On a recent visit to the wonderful city of Derry, I spoke with those involved in shaping the education offer in the city. They told me that a central aspect of the city deal is the establishment of a riverfront university, medical centre and innovation hub. Will the Minister update the House on the timeline and progress of this much-needed facility?

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The timeline for that is the same as the timeline for the rest of the city deal. Business cases have to be worked up and the business cases for all the projects have to work well. Incidentally, for any business cases that do not shape up, there are many other ideas that can also be brought through. They will then get approved and will proceed, particularly once the—

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Order. I call Emma Little Pengelly.

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The Belfast city deal has huge potential to bring investment and economic growth to Belfast and the wider region. Will the Minister outline in a little more detail what discussions he has had with the head of the civil service and with the city councils about getting those projects to implementation stage? When does he anticipate that the first project will be rolled out?

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The difficulty is that city deals are by definition local initiatives. We can lay foundations, but they need to be taken forward by local partners and local councils. Also, ultimately, as soon as we get the Stormont Executive re-established, they will have to have an essential role in this. Although we are making progress as fast as we decently can—so are local councils—we are ultimately also dependent on the progress of the talks.

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May I say to the Secretary of State how grateful I am for her kind wishes? If she would care to join me in Strangers for a small sweet sherry later on, she would be most welcome. She will be aware that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who aspires to be the father of the nation—to be fair, he does have some expertise in the field of paternity—has announced his intention of creating a Monaco-style tax-free zone in Belfast, with, presumably, a border around that fair city. Does the right hon. Lady consider that proposal to be risible and ridiculous, or the product of an unfocused mind with no knowledge of Northern Ireland?

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I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in wishing the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) best wishes for his 21-and-a-few-months birthday. I am afraid I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); that is a skillset I do not have.