Council mounts ‘intelligence gathering operation’ on town

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A brand new strategic plan which seeks to enhance the socio-economic future for the entire Mid & East Antrim zone is in the early stages of formulation.

And, as part of that ongoing process, Mid & East Antrim Council’s Planning Committee has begun a massive ‘intelligence gathering’ operation which will initially focus on the three main towns of Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus.

Using information collated from reports originally compiled for the old councils, the committee members will intially familiarise themselves with the current socio-economic state of play in these centres with an eye to feeding sugestions for necessary enhancements of their overall ‘offerings’ to the final Local Development Plan (LDP) for the entire zone.

The scale and importance of the overall project was explained to members of Mid & East Antrim Council’s planning committee when they met in Ballymena’s Braid Centre last week.

Fittingly, it was their very first ‘official’ meeting since the inauguration of the new ‘super council’.

Mr. Michael Francey, whose title is Development Plan Principal, told the members that the initial papers and figures provided to them were only a basic foundation and that much more research and information would have to be gathered,

He said: “We need to update the information and for that we need specialist consultants and widespread consultation to sstablish a new evidence base.”

Cllr. Audrey Wales proposed that the Council should hold workshops to allow for in depth consideration of the various issues.

“We need to take our time to ensure the creation of a stand out plan,” she argued.

And this view was supported by Cllr. Billy Henry Agree who contended that such a big issue required a lot of further discussion.

Council Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy said she was keen to move forward with the process. I’m happy to facilitate this but need to gather key expertise. The first workshop could be held in May.”

Cllr. Stephen Nicholl felt that three different meetings for each specific area would be required.

“This requires the input of people with close knowledge,” he said. It was agreed that the scheme would be brought before the next full meeting of council. While the reports go into great depth, the positives and negatives for each town have been summed up.

Ballymena strengths:- Diversity of town town centre uses; Recognised sub regional town with strong market share; Strong national multiple and local independent retail offer; Available town centre parking; Good acessibility and public transport links to town.

Weaknesses: Train/bus station detached from town centre; Vacancies and potential obsolesence of some floorspace; Amount of ‘out of centre’ retailing; Limited private sector town centre development; Retail core traffic flows and congestion leads to conflict with shoppers; Lack of public realm and poor environmental quality in some areas; Limited interest in town centre leisure activity aside from cinema; Low footfall on secondary streets.