THE battle to regenerate Ballymoney town centre has been taken to the heart of the Northern Ireland government.

Last week the Times told how traders in the town are appealing for a cash boost from public funds to spruce up the busiest routes in Ballymoney ahead of a busy few months which will see visitors flock to the area for the World Bowls Championships, North West 200, Milk Cup and Olympic Torch procession.

Prominent businessmen say the bill of prestigious events is the ideal opportunity to showcase the town.

They want Ballymoney Borough Council and the Northern Ireland Assembly to cough up to improve the aesthetics of Ballymoney with Linenhall Street - a long-standing eyesore in the heart of the town - a priority.

During a debate at Stormont last week on ways to boost the north coast ahead the staging of golf’s Irish Open, North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey called for Ballymoney to be factored in too for any potential investment.

“When we go through our towns we see, unfortunately, and as has been pointed out by members who spoke previously, the problem that we have with these sites,” said Mr Storey

“Sometimes, I think that politicians and the public are very quick to lay the blame solely at the door of developers.

“While developers have a huge responsibility, we must also remember that, if it were not for some developers, we would not have any development in some of our towns.

“We need to ensure that we strike a balance between the responsibility of those who build in a particular location and the responsibilities of local councils, the Department of the Environment, the Planning Service, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and other Government agencies. We must work together to deal with this problem.”

He added: “Let me take you to one location in my constituency, just a few yards away from my constituency office in Linenhall Street in Ballymoney.

“I left school 31 years ago and can remember Christie’s, which occupied a site on that street when I was at school. For those 31 years, that property, almost an acre in size, has lain derelict and has become an eyesore, a place of contention and an embarrassment, despite repeated attempts by the local council and local representatives to do various things with the two separate owners over a long period.

“That is why I make the point that sometimes it is not all about just blaming the developer. I have had meetings with the two owners of that site on numerous occasions over the past number of years. There is now planning permission to build residential homes and retail facilities on the site.

“However, the owners are now telling me that because of the financial circumstances that they find themselves in, they are unable to proceed.

“The recommendation was then made to knock the building down. The cost of knocking it down and clearing the site, given all the implications of that, is huge.

“We need to find a solution that is not all rooted in DOE or in the developers or in the councils; it needs to be a genuine attempt by us all to find a solution to addressing what is a blight in our towns.

“I hope that the Minister (for the Environment Alex Attwood) will come forward not just with the recommendations for Portrush and Portstewart, although they will be very welcome; I hope that he will go beyond the bounds of those recommendations to include other areas of Northern Ireland, including Linenhall Street in Ballymoney.”