Business leaders and political representatives met with Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey in Ballyclare on Monday, February 9.
Mr Storey was welcomed to the town by South Antrim MP Dr William McCrea and president of Ballyclare Chamber of Trade, Alison Thompson.
The Minister was shown the ongoing regeneration work in the town centre, including shop front improvements funded by the DSD and Newtownabbey Borough Council.
“They (the department) managed to find us another £10,000 for further improvement works at The Square and we thank them for that, but hopefully they will be able to find us a bit more money for phase three to continue the work up the Rashee Road. We put that to the minister and he said he would look into it,” Mrs Thompson said.
Other matters raised with the Minister included the urgent need for progress on the town’s long-awaited relief road, parking issues and plans for the redevelopment of the old Woodsides site at The Square.
Warning that any move to use such a prime retail location for social housing would be “detrimental to the town centre”, Mrs Thompson said that the chamber has “no problem with housing on the periphery of the town”, but stressed that “The Square is the heart of the town” and “must be preserved as the retail heart of the town.”
Thanking Dr McCrea for facilitating the Minister’s visit, and Cllr Vera McWilliam, chair of the Town Centre Revitalisation Committee, for attending, she said the meeting had been very useful.
“He was very understanding and he could see the work we’ve done and where we’re coming from on the various issues,” Mrs Thompson continued.
“He didn’t give any cast iron guarantees, they never do, but he agreed to look at the issues we raised and to see what he can do.
“The more we talk about these things and the more we have these sorts of visits and show the politicians the issues we are facing then at least it keeps them at the forefront of their minds when they’re up at Stormont making the decisions.”
Commenting on Minister Storey’s visit, Dr McCrea stated: “Before meeting with business proprietors whose premises have benefitted under the DSD scheme, I chaired extensive discussions relevant to the Minister’s department and the needs of the Ballyclare community. Redevelopment in the centre of the town was identified as a major issue, with the business community rightly asserting that a prime retail location at The Square must have a key commercial aspect attached to it. Relief schemes for small businesses and improved car parking arrangements in Ballyclare were also highlighted as was the need for social housing on lands owned by the Housing Executive.”
The DUP man, who is seeking re-election in May, added: “I am delighted that the Minister received such a warm welcome from local traders and trust that this will help to consolidate his Department’s investment in the town centre.”