Backlash over Fort James day trip offer

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Larne Borough Council’s plan to organise a day trip for primary school pupils in the borough has been scrapped due to a lack of interest.

The local authority had proposed using a £90,000 pot of money, left behind by Fort James Ltd when the company closed Larne Paper Mill in 2002, to fund a one-off event for school children, such as a trip to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, or W5 in the Odyssey, Belfast.

The trust fund is designed to benefit all young people in the borough, and Larne Council was entrusted with administering the cash gift.

Finally, more than a decade after the fund was set up, elected members have decided the most viable option is to divide the money equally between primary school pupils in the borough.

Each school is free to decide how it will spend the money, with the provision that it is made available to every child.

This could include a training scheme, such as cycling proficiency or a first aid course.

As an alternative, the council offered to organise a one-off event that primary schools could take part in.

However, a number of people took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the proposal.

One Facebook user posted: “If this is the most innovative and ground breaking idea our council can come up with to spend that fund on then shame on them.”

Another person wrote: “Great to hear about the money but a serious lack of creativity on the council’s side”, while a third added: “Such a wasted opportunity to create a lasting legacy.”

But Councillor Drew Niblock, who sits on the council’s Fort James Steering Group, told the Times: “In order to ensure as wide a range of views as possible were considered, the committee invited suggestions from the public. Many of these suggestions, whilst very worthy, would not have been equally available to all.

“We decided that by making funding available through the primary schools, there was a higher number of children who would benefit.

“Suggestions around peace and reconciliation as well as cross community projects were considered very worthwhile by the committee and to that end a proposal was made to the schools for a major event, organised with the assistance of Council, to a neutral venue such as W5 or the Folk and Transport Museum.

“Unfortunately, only one of the primary schools expressed interest in this event. Therefore, no such event will be provided,” Cllr Niblock concluded.