Local UUP Assemblyman Robin Swann has called for the creation of an Enterprise Zone around JTI’s Ballymena factory at Lisnafillan.
His call was issued in the wake of a recent meeting with representatives from the Unite union along with UUP Party leader Mike Nesbitt, Jim Nicholson MEP, and East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs.
Mr Swann said: “From discussing all the latest developments with union representatives, it is clear to all of us that Japan Tobacco International, the owners of the old Gallaher plant, does not have any inclination to retain any sort of manufacturing base at Lisnafillan.
“That being the case, it is time to look to the future. It is estimated the factory will be closed within two years. We urge the Stormont Executive to start the process of declaring this large industrial site as an Enterprise Zone.
“There is a highly skilled, flexible and motivated workforce in Ballymena who want to work, and need the opportunity to re-skill and gain alternative employment. The two years must be used by the Executive, through Invest Northern Ireland, to attract the inward investment to replace the 800 jobs which are being lost. It can be done, it must be done.”
Mike Nesbitt added: “I was happy to commit my Party to do all it can to help the workers at Council, Assembly and European level. I call on other parties to do the same. This is not a party political matter, too many livelihoods are at stake, and the effect on the Ballymena and wider economy is potentially catastrophic.
“There is still time to put an economic recovery plan in place, but that time must be used wisely,” he said.