SOCIAL Development MInister Nelson McCausland has outlined his plans to regenerate the future of Ballymoney in an open letter to the residents and businesspeople of the town.
Minister McCausland said: “I recently received letters from both the Member of Parliament, Ian Paisley MP and a local councillor in Ballymoney Borough Council regarding public investment required for Ballymoney and any plans that were being put in place for the town. I would like to share the message in my response with all those who have an interest in the future wellbeing and regeneration of the town.
“During my visit to the town centre in May last year I walked about the town centre area and saw at first hand the poor state of some of the buildings, particularly in Linenhall Street. The visit reinforced my view that we need to do more to help the traders and businesses that currently operate in the vicinity.
“At the same time we also need to work with the owners of these derelict buildings to improve their appearance, particularly as current economic conditions are inhibiting new development.
“I am therefore pleased to say that work is progressing on plans for a project for Linenhall Street to provide a virtual shop front to the derelict buildings. I also expect plans to be drawn up in conjunction with traders and the Council on a Revitalisation scheme for other targeted premises which are in need of repair.
“At the time of my visit I announced funding for the costs of producing a masterplan for Ballymoney town centre. The purpose of the masterplan is, in my view, fundamental to the long-term future success and viability of the town. Urban regeneration is a complex and challenging area of work.
“The Department has completed masterplans in a number of other towns across Northern Ireland and our experience shows that regeneration projects will achieve a much better chance of success if there is a clear vision of what is required and strategic regeneration objectives are agreed to attain that vision. A town centre masterplan is therefore an important enabling tool for other regeneration initiatives which may be supported by DSD and other agencies, including District councils.
“A masterplan will set out the strategic direction for the regeneration of Ballymoney town centre for the next 20 years and will allow my Department and Ballymoney Council to plan ahead and consider which regeneration initiatives can and should be taken forward. It will provide a robust basis for decisions on where and how resources should be deployed or whether legislative powers should be exercised to promote the regeneration of the town centre.
“I understand that the consultants appointed to produce a masterplan have already started work and held a stakeholder workshop at the end of November. This workshop was organised through invitations issued by Ballymoney Borough Council to local traders and businesses. As a result there have been some very positive suggestions put forward and further opportunities for workshops, discussions and consultations are planned over the next few months.
“This will help us develop a vision for Ballymoney, identify its key strategic objectives, and then the actions required to deliver this over the short, medium and longer term.
“The investment I announced recently in Ballymena should help advance the North Antrim region as a whole. It should really be welcomed by everyone in the area and presents opportunities for other neighbouring towns, such as Ballymoney, to promote their individual and unique character to a much wider market.
“Through effective marketing support and management from Council, the local businesses in Ballymoney should be able to attract more customers and visitors drawn to the larger towns nearby.
“Hopefully my response addresses some concerns raised recently in the local papers about dereliction in the town centre and the crucial importance of the masterplanning process. This will work best for the town if the private sector and public sector agencies can combine their efforts in partnership. I would encourage you to play your part and to participate and encourage others involved in the masterplanning process for a better and sustainable Ballymoney town centre for everyone in the future.”