Thousands of new jobs could be created by the re-development of an ex-army base in County Derry, the deputy First Minister has said.
Martin McGuinness was speaking as he viewed plans on Wednesday for the new Department of Agriculture headquarters, which are to relocate to the site of the former Shackleton army barracks in Ballykelly.
The former army base was gifted to the OFMDFM in April 2011 and, later this year, parts of the huge 730-acre site are to be sold off. Mr McGuinness said the potential for new jobs for people from Coleraine to Donegal is “phenomenal”.
As demolition work on a number of buildings continued, Mr McGuinness said with 40 expressions of interest in the massive site to date “it’s a phenomenal opportunity for the entire North West”.
“When you look at what’s happening with Fort George and Ebrington, St. Patrick’s in Ballymena and the shared education campus at Lisanelly - all former military sites - we’re moving from conflict to peace in a very powerful way by recognising what these sites can provide, what is probably the most important objective of all, in terms of any government department, which is the provision of new jobs, particularly for our young people,” said Mr McGuinness.
“This is just a 14-acre site in terms of the Department of Agriculture. This is a massive site and we believe we can provide thousands of new jobs on this site in the time ahead. There have been 40 expressions of interest and Peter Robinson and I are looking very closely at all of them to see which of those interests can provide the much needed jobs this area needs.”
Mr McGuinness added: “It’s one of the most exciting projects I have been involved in over the last seven years and I think this is a really ground breaking day for people of the North West in more ways than one.”
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said up to 400 staff are expected to be in place in Ballykelly by 2017.
“It’s a celebration and it really is, for me, another milestone to show the local community in the North West that we are committed to this project and taking it forward so, it is full steam ahead and by 2014 we hope to have staff, 400 staff, on site by 2017 and I do believe our move will be the catalyst for other people to come on site,” said Minister O’Neill. “It’s a really good news story and we hope, as the anchor tenant, we will lead the way to further investment in the North West.”
Limavady Mayor, DUP Colr. Alan Robinson said it was heartening to see the work underway and hoped more public sector jobs to the area would follow.
“You hear the saying that when you go outside the city limits of Glengormley, you would fall off the cliff, well I have to say here we are and I hope this will be the centre of the universe for all the jobs that come this way, and I absolutely look forward to it,” said Colr. Robinson.
Local businessman, Tommy Hasson said the move by DARD to Ballykelly could only be good for the local economy.
“It can only be good for Ballykelly, the borough of Limavady and the North West in general. It can only help because we have such a drop in employment in this area,” said Mr Hasson. “That’s a lot of money lost to the borough and nothing has replaced it, and I hope it will be the catalyst for others to follow.”
Tina McCloskey of Ballykelly Community Association said the relocation of jobs would boost the local economy and hopes OFMDFM will provide a community space for the Association.
“We hope OFMDFM will gift us a building for the Community Centre as I believe it was the MoD’s hope they would give us a building when they moved out,” said Ms McCloskey. “It’s excellent DARD is coming to Ballykelly and maybe it’ll encourage others to come. That can only be a good thing.”