The deputy First Minister has pledged to work “flat out” to deliver a new community space for Ballykelly Community Association at a former army base in the County Derry village.
Martin McGuinness made the commitment on Wednesday as he viewed plans and the start of demolition work in preparation for the new Department of Agriculture headquarters at the former Shackleton army barracks.
“I think in terms of the integration of this site with the local community it’s very, very important that the Ballykelly Community Association have a base here and I will be working flat out to make sure they get it,” Martin McGuinness told the ‘Journal’. “I think they have confidence in our commitment.”
Tina McCloskey, chairperson of the Community Association said she understood it was the intention of the Ministry of Defence when they vacated the barracks, and gifted the massive site to OFMDFM, a building would be gifted to the local community association.
“We are feeling very positive about the reaction of the deputy First Minister and, hopefully, there will be an announcement soon. I am very happy that OFMDFM and DARD included the Community Association in the site visit on Wednesday and their plans,” said Ms McCloskey.
Ms McCloskey said the DARD move would be good for the village of Ballykelly and surrounding area.
“Since Seagate, and the other factories that have closed in the Limavady area, there have been no jobs to replace them. Even with the demolition everyone hopes it will bring some business to the area,” said Ms McCloskey.
Ballykelly hotelier, Jim Peoples of The Drummond Hotel said the DARD move would boost the local economy.
“The sooner the better it happens because it will create a whole buzz around the village and will help all the businesses and give Ballykelly a much needed boost,” said Mr Peoples, adding: “Ballykelly has been badly neglected. I hope the move happens sooner rather than later.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he is hopeful progress on the site can be made quickly.
“There is a massive cost of the site remaining derelict, million of pounds a year. This makes logical and financial sense, and needs to go ahead urgently and we need to get the private sector involved in the rest of the site,” said Mr Campbell.
“We’re talking between 500 and 800 jobs with DARD and, my understanding is, hopefully there will be further developments in the medium term after DARD so, we could be talking about hundreds of jobs in addition to DARD so it wouldn’t just benefit Ballykelly, but the entire North West region.”
Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O’hOisn said: “We are seing the physical demolition work on the ground and it’s all systems go. We’ve seen the staff survey which showed nearly 1,600 people wanted to transfer, and a lot of those people are local people and are from Derry, so that will free even more jobs in the North West.”