New DEARA HQ in Ballykelly to be ready by 2018

Artist's impression of the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs HQ in Ballykelly.

Artist's impression of the Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs HQ in Ballykelly.

Officials quizzed on the relocation of Department of Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs to Ballykelly say the new base will be ready by 2018.

DEARA HQ is moving from Dundonald House to County Derry, a move made by the former minister Michelle O’Neill in a bid to decentralise hundreds of civil service jobs from Belfast.

At the meeting of the Stormont DEARA committee on Thursday, Louise Warde Hunter, who led three DAERA officials briefing the committee on the Ballykelly move, said contractors estimate work on the buildings is due to be completed in mid-January 2018.

Committee members heard the first concrete would be poured mid-December.

She revealed DAERA plans to have 320 people working in Ballykelly by the end of 2021, with 240 moving in when the building is ready and a further 80 in place by the end 2021, another 270 over the long-term until 2029.

Newly appointed agriculture committee chair, Sinn Fein East Derry MLA, Caoimhe Archibald, said the fact construction is under way is “very positive”. She spoke of the benefits that will come with the relocation including, approximately 200 construction jobs over the life of the project as well as the long-term economic benefits to the North West local area.

“I’m looking forward to it taking shape. With it being in my constituency, I’ll be keeping a close watch on it,” said Ms Archibald.

Ms Warde Hunter said current DEARA employees who don’t want to transfer to Ballykelly will have the opportunity “to either move to another DAERA post”, or transfer out of the department to another part of the civil service.

She said there’s been considerable interest from existing staff in transferring to the new site.

In the most recent staff survey, she said almost 1,300 staff from across the civil service “indicated they’d be interested in working in Ballykelly”.

DEARA official, Tom Kennedy, was asked about the payment for land for a new access road, confirming “the agreement is finalised at £600,000”, a figure revealed by the ‘Journal’ in August.

The ‘Journal’ revealed in August that £600,000 was paid for the 0.4 hectares of land in Ballykelly for the new access road.