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The future of the Ballymoney campus of the Northern Regional College now lies in the hands of the Department for Employment and Learning.

NRC chiefs presented their business case to DEL last Friday.

It comes in the week when North Antrim MLAs challenged DEL Minister Stephen Farry to retain the Ballymoney campus of NRC or risk adding to the town’s economic crisis.

In a Stormont debate, UUP MLA Robin Swann said that a decision to axe the campus would “rip the heart out of further education provision”.

He said that the campus had “a long history of providing quality vocational education and training to the local community”.

He asked the Minister for DEL Stephen Farry in Stormont if he agreed that removing the campus from Ballymoney would be a massive blow to the town’s ecomony.

TUV MLA Jim Allister called for “no more asset stripping in Ballymoney”.

Mr Allister said to Stephen Farry: “Minister, the choice that faces you is whether you are going to continue that cycle of asset-stripping from Ballymoney or will you take a stand in defence of a key component of our educational provision.

“Make no mistake about it - the regional college is key to the economic future of Ballymoney.

“That is not just in the sense that it has 1,000 students who come and go but 1,000 students who bring commerce to the town. At lunchtime and afterwards, they go down the town and spend money in the shops.

“If we take another 1,000 spenders out of Ballymoney and rob the town of that facility, what will we do to its economic heart, and what will we do to the prospect of attracting new businesses that will be reliant upon skilled staff, apprentices?”

Minister Farry - who at that point had not received the NRC business case - replied: “It is important to bear in mind that, as regards the further education estate, we are trying to ensure that we have modern accommodation and the best facilities for the education and training of our young people and others in society.

“It is important that we have proper economies of scale in what we are seeking to do. That means investing in modern, up-to-date facilities where a lot of things can be brought together.

“When we look at whether a college should appear in every town across Northern Ireland, it is also important to bear in mind that, even at present, only certain courses are delivered in certain campuses of the existing colleges and not in others.

“Again, that reflects the need to invest in a critical mass to ensure that we deliver a proper service to young people.

“Irrespective of what happens, we are committed to ensuring that the people of Ballymoney will be able to access further education as part of the Northern Regional College estate.

“In other areas, when situations have arisen where colleges have been moved or relocated, community facilities have been provided to ensure that local people have ready access to a range of courses.

A spokesperson for the Northern Regional College told the Times; “NRC presented the business case to the Department for Employment and Learning for assessment and approval on Friday 28th March 2014”.