Negative vibe over realm works hurting town says Wales

Pedestrian walkways have been created on the town centre streets included in the Public Realm Scheme while works are ongoing. (Editorial Image).
Pedestrian walkways have been created on the town centre streets included in the Public Realm Scheme while works are ongoing. (Editorial Image).

A former Ballymena Mayor has called for a halt to ‘negative comments’ on the controversial town centre Public Realm Scheme.

Speaking at the monthly meeting of Mid & East Antrim Council, Cr Audrey Wales said the scheme, which is ongoing at four core town centre streets, will bring economic benefits to Ballymena and said headline hitting ‘derogatory’ remarks were only serving to put people off coming to the town.

“We are open for business! Can we please stop talking down the town,” she urged fellow councillors.

Some business people in the town centre have claimed disruption and inconvenience caused by the scheme has cost them to 40% of trade. These claims were highlighted by DUP Assemblyman, Paul Frew in a statement to the press last week.

Cr Beth Adger also complained about councillors “ridiculing” the scheme which she spoke out firmly in support of and was backed by Cr Paul Maguire who told the meeting: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”.

Their comments came in the wake of an update on the streetscape works from Council’s Chief Executive Anne Donaghy who pointed out that the 82-week £4.1m project was, at that stage, in its 11th week.

She said the first phase, which would bring improvements for pedestrians including new paving, was nearing completion.

Responding, Deputy Mayor, Cr Timothy Gaston said: “I am glad to see we are on schedule. There are definitely a few concerns in the town centre with traders and I welcome the Chief Executive stepping in to deal with this.”

However, he expressed his disappointment that a town centre PR campaign which had been approved by council had yet to be delivered.

Council officer Aidan Donnelly said that following the completion of consultation with the Ballymena BID company, the Chamber of Commerce and independent businesses, a trader-driven £7,000 PR campaign was ready to launch.

Mr Donnelly also presented a written response to a series of tabled questions put on the agenda by Cr Gaston in relation to the scheme.

His report revealed that one accident and 10 complaints/queries had been registered with the contractor and that 73 complaints/queries had been registered with council officers since the scheme started.

Issues raised with officers were dealt with within 24 hours and varied greatly, according to the report, which listed 11 common ones. These included - trade decrease in some businesses, some work areas being left for weeks with no activity, long stretch of barriers with no openings from each end, and tar being lifted from works on customers’ shoes and walked into carpet.

“The two biggest issues to businesses currently are the lack of workmen visible in opened sections and greater communication with the contractor,” the report stated.

Councillors were informed that “further confidential information” would be presented in ‘Closed Council’, prompting Cr Paul Maguire to state: “It’s the ratepayer that is being inconvenienced. There should be no secrets held back from ratepayers.”

He was told by Mrs Donaghy that issues to be discussed in private were “contractual”.