There were heated exchanges and raised voices at Friday afternoon’s formal consultation meeting for Ballymoney Street traders opposed to a town centre scheme which they fear could reduce on-street parking by 60%.
At one stage during the forum in the Braid, hosted by Ballymena Borough Council, a number of business owners got to their feet to complain that they weren’t being given sufficient opportunity to have their say.
In all four traders addressed the gathering - Amanda Barr (Flamingo), Sammy Moore Moore Electrics), Jenny Herald (Subway) and Trevor Barr (Barr butchers)- who were agreed that the £4m DSD funded Public Realm scheme was welcome but NOT at the expense of doorstep car parking which they stressed was vital to their respective businesses.
Also in attendance was local MP Ian Paisley jnr who handed in a petition of 3,000 signatures of people opposed to any reduction in on-street parking along Ballymoney Street.
“Every trader that I have spoken to has concerns but also welcome this money being secured but they want to ensure the money is spent right.
“The traders want this street reinvented but don’t want it destroyed,” said Mr Paisley.
TUV leader Jim Allister stated: “It’s quite clear the attempt to destroy Ballymoney Street by removing its on-street parking is something the traders will not live with.”
At the outset of the meeting, Council’s Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy, said the £4m for Ballymena town centre had been “hard earned”.
“It’s important that it’s spent well and spent right because you can only spend it once”.
She said Council was up against timelines set by the Department of Social Development (DSD) which meant that the design phase had to be completed by mid-October or £1m of the funds could be jeopardised.
Mrs Donaghy said that people had to-date been given multiple opportunities to put forward their views on the scheme adding: “This is the final formal process for traders so that their views can be considered and potential solutions are gathered”.
The meeting also heard from former Ballymena Town Centre manager Colin Neill,
He said: “The world has changed in retail and it’s important that the town changes. If we keep on doing what we are doing we will keep on getting what we are getting - a downturn.”
While traders voiced themselves sceptical of the consultation process, a representative for the design team revealed that “the Ballymena consultation is being rolled out in the province as best practice”.
He said that it had involved surveys on the site, shopping, business and access; statutory consultation; traders’ meeting, SWOT analysis; public display of information; events in schools: and, consultation events in the town centre.
He also told the gathering that following consultation on the draft design, the move would be to detailed design of the scheme with detailed business and statutory consultation prior to submitting a planning application.