BALLYMONEY is one of three ‘rebel’ councils objecting to a Stormont plan to prevent ice and snow paralysing their town centres this winter.

Alongside Castlereagh and Newtownards, Ballymoney Borough Council is giving Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy the cold shoulder by refusing to help keep roads and footpaths clear. Where as the other 23 local authorities have agreed an ‘action plan’ with the Department of Regional Development (DRD).

Two years ago parts of the province, including Ballymoney, came to a virtual stand-still in some of the harshest winter weather for years.

But John Dempsey, Chief Executive of Ballymoney Borough Council, insisted: “We have debated this twice and our members have said DRD is the roads authority with the power to do this work and it should do so.

“The council has neither the staff nor the budget to do the work consistently to an acceptable standard and taking on this would expose the council to risk of litigation and expense.”

Under the joint arrangements DRD can make a formal request during a prolonged period of wintry weather and, if available, council staff are redeployed to clear footways of snow and ice.

Town hall chiefs in Newtownards and Castlereagh concurred with Ballymoney officials explaining that ‘Roads Service, and not local councils, has the power to grit footpaths’ and expressed a number of concerns including insurance and liability issues.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy told the Stormont committee which monitors his department it was “unlikely” the three ‘rebel’ councils would join their counterparts.

His department last week said: “Roads Service will continue to work with councils on the gritting issue. We are pleased that so many councils have come on board in recent years.”

Commenting on the matter, Winnifred Mellet, President of the Ballymoney Chamber of Commerce added: “The possibility of another harsh winter in our town centre concerns us greatly, and we will do everything we can to ensure the town centre is kept safe and clear for access by workers and shoppers alike.

“Ballymoney cannot afford another standstill in business as a result of snow and ice, given that this potentially is our busiest time of year. We have collaborated with Ballymoney Council before on this matter and will do so again this year, if necessary.”