A decision by Ballymena Borough Council to spend £106,000 lighting a pathway through Galgorm Estates is to be challenged, Councillor Paul Maguire has confirmed.
According to the Sinn Fein Councillor, a concerned ratepayer is to issue a complaint to the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman about public money being spent to install safety lighting along the path, which runs on lands owned by Galgorm Estates Ltd., from the entrance to the Golf Club through to Sourhill.
Cllr Maguire said: “Opposition to council spending £106k plus £2k a year for electricity until 2040, of ratepayers money on improving the infrastructure of a private commercial enterprise is growing.
“An on-line poll in one local newspaper indicates 25% in favour of Council’s decision with 75% against. Time will tell if the NIAO and Ombudsman agree with the citizens”.
He stated: “This issue was first brought to council at the Monthly Meeting of September 2, 2013, when, as recorded in a minute extract, “Northern Ireland Open Challenge Golf Tournament - Galgorm (Additional Item,), the Town Clerk and Chief Executive reported.
“During the next few weeks Mrs Donaghy stated that she planned to meet with the Galgorm Board to explore the opportunities to enhance golf in this borough as a major sporting tourism attraction and to forge further links and partnerships with Royal Portrush as host of major tournaments. In addition, Mrs Donaghy was working with Galgorm Estate in relation to upgrading Council’s pathway which runs through the estate in order to ensure it met the standards required for venues hosting this type of high-level event and, in particular, the provision of lighting which she advised was currently being surveyed.”
Cllr. Maguire continued: “Councillors, as mandated by the electorate, make decisions and council officers deliver the outcomes of those decisions, not the other way around.
“The Town Clerk had no mandate to engage in any such discussions in relation to upgrading the pathway nor commission any survey without permission from the elected members. There was no mention of health and safety at this stage, it was purely a case of wanting to enhance a privately owned commercial sports venue. No indication of cost was given.
“At the Monthly Meeting of November 4, 2013, the Town Clerk brought forward a report with an engineering survey recommending that elected members approve spending £106k on lighting the pathway and extending the current legal agreement with Galgorm Castle Estate until 2040.
“According to the minute extract “Mrs Donaghy advised that there were two separate issues in relation to Galgorm Castle Estate. The first was in relation to a health and safety issue on the Council owned pathway and the second was an update with regard to the golf offering.”
“Elected members were asked to approve the recommendation and associated costs. This was highly irregular in the first instance as Council’s own policy for spending anything over £7000 is to bring the recommendation to a relevant committee meeting for consideration, supported by a full business case, yet there we were not having gone through a committee, no business case, being asked to approve £99k over the legal limit. What was the rush?
“I succeeded in having the decision deferred until the Economic Growth & Development Committee Meeting of January 20, 2014, at which the recommendation came forward again, this time on Health & Safety grounds, the “Golf Offering” having mysteriously disappeared. In reply to a number of questions I put to the Economic, Community Services & European Programmes Director, it was confirmed that this pathway has no health & safety history, no incidents history, no insurance claims history and council have no legal obligation to light it. Despite this, in a recorded vote, which I requested, 15 members voted for, two (Sinn Féin) voted against and four abstained,” said Cllr Maguire.
Responding to his comments, a spokesperson for Ballymena Borough Council stated: “All decisions with regard to the lighting of the permissive path managed by Ballymena Borough Council in Galgorm Castle Estates were taken within normal Council procedures. The elected members voted to approve the recommendation based on the business case for citizens using the path.
The Chief Executive of Ballymena Borough Council works with elected members and stakeholders to deliver the strategic plans for the borough in line with the priorities of its Corporate Plan 2012-2016.”