Mayor Kennedy looks back on Ballymoney Borough Council

Alderman Bill Kennedy, Mayor of Ballymoney. INBM25-03-15 BILL
Alderman Bill Kennedy, Mayor of Ballymoney. INBM25-03-15 BILL

The final Mayor of Ballymoney, Alderman Bill Kennedy came into council in 1989 and has seen many changes since then.

With the onset of the new super council looming large, he took time to look back at this time.

“I have to say in all that time I really enjoyed it,” commented the Ballymoney Mayor. “From what council was then to what it is now is like day and night. When I started there was no economic development committee which was something I always interested in and proposed that we should have one. On that side of things, I think we have done a lot of work improving the town and the streetscape.

“A lot of towns across the Province like Ballymoney lost their heart with the development of the out of town centres which sprang up.

“What pleased me most was when Tescos came in here and they were looking for the Cricket Park. Obviously that was a bone of contention and the Cricket Park was like sacred ground to many people who had played sport. The likes of Harry Gregg, George Best and I believe Sir Alex Ferguson even had a game there at a time.

“There were a lot of people who had a lot of memories even in local football but I felt the decision to sell the Cricket Park but it was the right one. I always felt that if they (Tescos) didn’t get it that they would come and buy some land off the bypass and that would have sucked the life out of the town. After a long and hard campaign we eventually sold the land to Tescos and it provided 137 jobs for the town.”

Having sold the treasured Cricket Park, the money was used to provide the area with some of the most envied sporting facilities.

“I’m very proud of the facilities we provide at the Riada Playing Fields and Joey Dunlop Centre, they are some of the best in the Province. We secured funding, paid for some of it ourselves and all the money we got for the Cricket Park was all reinvested at the Joey Dunlop Centre and the Riada Playing Fields and that for me is one of my biggest achievements.

“There were also many achievements particularly in the rural areas. Practically every village we have has its own community centre and hall which has been built by the council. I think the jewel in the crown is the Drumaheglis Caravan Park and Marina.

“It was a big step for the council to take at that time. Ballymoney doesn’t really have a tourism product as such because of where we are situated right beside the coast. We are more of a gateway and to have a five star caravan park which has now got tents and pods along with the marina is a great achievement for Ballymoney Borough Council.”

Despite numerous achievements, there are a number of issues that still trouble the Mayor.

“Although we were probably limited as to what the council could do, I would really have liked to have seen something down in Linenhall Street as its been an eyesore for all of my time in the council. There are so many vacant buildings as you approach the town but hopefully something will happen before long.

For me one of the saddest things was not being able to save the Route hospital. We fought hard to save it but it ended up being another piece being taken out of Ballymoney.”

For Bill it was sometimes the less obvious things that gave him greatest rewards.

“As a council you are always involved with people on so many different scales. To some it may seem trivial but for me I enjoyed it whether it was getting a planning application sorted or someone in desperation for a house or sorting out roads problems. I have to say with all the agencies I’ve had to work with I always had a great relationship with them. It always gave me a lot of satisfaction when I got an issue resolved.”

Alderman Kennedy was also heavily involved in forging new relationships with other areas.

“It was through me and my time with motorbikes that we, as a Borough, formed a great relationship with the Isle of Man through Mayor Stephen Pitts who was a regular visitor to the North West 200 and I had met him in the Mayor’s Parlour. Over the next number years we ended up with a twinning relationship with Douglas Borough Council and thats worked very well especially with our sports people.

“We’ve had boxing matches between Douglas and Ballymoney, hockey, rugby and basketball teams have been back and forward and it will continue for many years to come.

“We have another cultural link with Vanves in France. This has worked very well from a sporting, cultural and musical link and it continues to do so.”

Having spent 26 years on the council Bill has seen many great people come and go.

“There were some great characters in the council. When I came in first Bob McComb was an independent councillor. He would have told you himself that he wasn’t the best educated but he was very, very witty and was very hard working and I learned a lot from Bob. Then there was the late James McKeown who was another great character and Sammy McConaghie. These great characters which helped to make the meetings that bit more pleasant and added a lighter side. Malachy McCamphill would have been a great friend of mine and we often travelled to meetings together and he was probably one of the best people I travelled with and he was very witty and always used to get into great conversations.”

As the curtain comes down on Ballymoney Council, Alderman Kennedy hopes that the new super council will continue the good work that has been done over the last 42 years.

“Overall I really enjoyed my time, its been very very time consuming, you have to be very committed but I wouldn’t change it. When I came into council there was plenty of trouble in the country and there were bombings and shootings throughout the country and people were upset about that. Thankfully we have moved on from there and it augurs well for the new council that councillors, irrespective of their party, can work for the greater good of the community.

“I wouldn’t be the most political person within the council and I think I have always had a great working relationship with all the different parties and I think that was good for the Borough. People and people are people with the same needs and aspirations wherever you are and whatever your political views are.

“I can plusses and minuses with the super councils, I just hope the rural communities don’t lose out. I think the towns will be looked after but because there are fewer councillors and less representation than before especially in the rural areas, I just hope they don’t get forgotten because Ballymoney Borough Council has done its best for the rural areas.”