A councillor has spoken of her “disbelief” that Ballymena is to receive £2.7 million of government cash for street improvements which follows on from the recent revelation that Invest NI ploughed ten times more money into Ballymena than Ballymoney.
Cllr Roma McAfee (Independent) has now raised the matter at the highest levels by writing to the Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland; Invest NI; North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and the area’s MLAs.
Cllr McAfee’s letter stated: ‘It is with disbelief that I recently read that Ballymena town is to receive £2.7 million of Social Development money for a Public Realm strategy while Queen’s Quay in Bangor was also bought by the Department for Social Development.
‘This follows on from the recent exposure that ten times more money has been invested in Ballymena than Ballymoney from Invest NI. My point is that there has been a historical lack of investment into Ballymoney and this is now being reflected in both the physical infrastructure and the jobless figures for the area.
‘Linenhall Street, the old cinema and various other derelict sites, are a blight on the town and are contributing to a drop in pride.
‘People are very frustrated by what is perceived to be a lack of action and it is also having an effect on support for local shops.
‘Seeing rows of derelict buildings on the main accesses into the town is hardly the most welcoming sights for visiting shoppers.
‘While the ‘Ballymoney Masterplan’ may provide a basis for future regeneration, this will take many years to come into effect and in my opinion will be too late.
‘As a councillor for the Town ward, the latest statistics through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment also make concerning reading.
‘The average percentage of working age people claiming benefits for the five town wards (Carnany, Fairhill, Glebe, Newhill and Route) are all above the Ballymoney average and only the Glebe ward, which is the second most affluent ward in Ballymoney, is above the Northern Ireland average.
‘This indicates a significant growing problem with a grave issue developing in the town.
‘Claims that investment in Ballymena helps Ballymoney are misleading. While jobs in Ballymena may be taken up by people from Ballymoney in many cases the cost of travelling every day does not justify this. 40 miles each day, 200 miles each week, equates to up to £30 per week out of a persons wages,’ said the letter from Cllr McAfee.
She asked the recipients of the letter to outline what plans are in place to “counter this lack of investment”.
* The number of jobseekers in the Ballymoney Council area in November this year was 1,019 or 5.2 per cent which was up from 972 (5 per cent) in November 2011 and 927 (4.7 per cent) in November 2010.