Recently elected DUP assemblyman Phillip Logan has voiced his frustration with Mid & East Antrim Council over his bid to meet with them over the controversial public realm works in Ballymena town centre.
However, while acknowledging that she has received a request for a meeting from Assemblyman Logan, Mid & East Antrim Chief Executive Anne Donaghy says her primary duty is to council members.
She said: “Philip Logan MLA has indeed requested a meeting with me and I intend to meet with him in due course, however I am sure you can appreciate that my focus is on the elected members of council who only received an update themselves at Economic Growth and Tourism Committee on Monday evening past and this has not yet been advised to full council.”
Earlier Mr. Logan had issued a sternly worded statement which expressed fears for the future of Ballymena’s primary retail sites.
He said: “I know the intention of this scheme was to improve Ballymena town centre but it will only be an improvement if we still have shops left at the end of it all! Traders are suffering and there have been delays as there were problems with the scheduling of these works.”
And, in a statement issued this week, he said he had been trying to get a meeting scheduled where he could pass on the views which traders had expressed to him. (The Ballymena Times is awaiting a corporate response from Council.)
He said: “I am frustrated as I have attempted to meet with the Chief Executive of the Council to discuss this as a matter of urgency – the Christmas period will soon be upon us and these works will affect trade.
“I sent an email on September 21 to ask for a meeting, the response was that we would be contacted in due course. We then sent a further letter to the office outlining concerns about traders and the Public Realm Scheme on September 30 and it was acknowledged on October 4 but no response has been given regarding concerns and no meeting has been organised.
“I have been given confirmation from the Minister of Communities that his Department is considering a marketing campaign for Ballymena traders to coincide with the completion of the works. This will hopefully be a boost to Ballymena when the works are eventually completed but it does not give them a solution for the situation that they are in at present.”
Mr. Logan was adamant that any such solution needs to come from Council.
He added: “Ballymena has had difficult times in regards to jobs losses in the past year and I am not prepared to allow the difficult times to continue. I am trying to meet with Council to resolve this issue and I hope that they will be in contact with me and the traders of Ballymena soon.”
Responding to Mr. Logan’s points, Mrs. Donaghy said: “Council is aware of the unfortunate impact that the public realm works have had on traders in Ballymena and has met regularly with traders to keep them abreast of progress on works and to take their concerns on board. We are committed to supporting our local businesses and are working with the contractor to resolve issues as soon as possible.
“We have been informed that the current programme of work will not be completed until immediately prior to Christmas. To mitigate the impact on trade in the town during this peak seasonal period, Council is monitoring the situation daily and has taken steps to ensure that the urgent and immediate focus is on completing areas most likely to have an impact on trade.
“It is our intention that these areas, such as Bryan Street, will be cleared prior to discount day and we have requested that our current contractor works to achieve these timescales.
“As the Minister has confirmed, we have also been engaging with Department for Communities to plan some additional interventions to boost trade in the town. Marketing activities were part of this discussion. Work will not commence on Broadway until 2017.”