DARD in place by 2020 says Minister

Minister Michelle O'Neill with Derry Councillors Sandra Duffy and Tony Hassan.
Minister Michelle O'Neill with Derry Councillors Sandra Duffy and Tony Hassan.

The President of the Roe Valley Chamber of Commerce has described the relocation of hundreds of government jobs to a former army base as a “first step” in redeveloping the mammoth site.

David Brewster was speaking after Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed she will now press ahead with moving her departmental headquarters to Ballykelly after securing the backing from the Northern Ireland Executive this week.

It is expected that this will involve the transfer of around 700 public sector jobs.

Mr Brewster told the Journal: “It is good news for Ballykelly and good news for the borough.

“We want to see how many jobs it delivers. It is fair to say the likelihood is that some people will simply be moved from other departments, but it is good news that we have this very large, brownfield site, that has sat there since the army left, starting to develop. We need to have the rest of it developed as quickly as possible.”

Mr Brewster said it was hoped the government move would trigger other developments at Shackleton, which he said was one of the top 12 largest vacant sites in the entire European Union. He vowed that the Chamber would continue lobbying for further development.

The Limavady Borough and surrounding area is still reeling from the closure of a number of businesses, including the Seagate factory and the loss of 930 jobs back in 2008.

Speaking after the Executive backing was secured for the DARD relocation- the final hurdle to making it a reality- Minister O’Neill said: “We will now press on with the necessary detailed design work and the process of awarding a contract to begin the building work by the end of 2015 for completion late 2017.

“The plan is to complete the move in two phases; the first by the end of 2017 and the remainder by the end of 2020.”

Ms O’Neill said that the move to Co. Derry “was consistent with my commitment to relocate to a rural area”.

“This decision will mean that I meet my Programme for Government target to decentralise DARD’s headquarters to a rural location. However, I also expect these moves to deliver real social and economic improvement in rural areas.”