Contractor appointed for £1.3m Market Yard regeneration scheme

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A CONTRACTOR has been appointed to carry out long-awaited regeneration work at Larne Market Yard.

A decade after it was first mooted, Larne Borough Council is finally in a position to proceed with the scheme - but only after substantially reducing the scope of what they had hoped to achieve. And even at the eleventh hour, the project was in doubt as all the tenders received were over budget.

The local authority’s original proposal, which included a sheltered housing scheme and a budget hotel, was scuppered when planners refused permission. A reduced scheme, which protects historically important architectural features and the makes provision for community use and events space, was subsequently approved.

However, even the lowest tender - for £1,545,640 submitted by Mascot Construction Ltd - exceeded what the council could afford. Now officials are seeking to trim the amount to £1,366,644 by lowering specifications in certain areas. The tender amount does not include professional fees, specialist surveys, clerk of works costs and building control fees.

A historic buildings grant from the NI Environment Agency will take roughly £150,000 off the final tally.

The final deliberations over whether to proceed with the market yard project - which is in competition with major capital items including the Gobbins path scheme and the Glenarm regeneration masterplan - took place behind closed doors.

However, minutes of the meeting indicate that both Cllr Gregg McKeen and Ald Winston Fulton sought an assurance that the council could afford the market yard expenditure. Chief executive Geraldine McGahey replied that it had been budgeted for and was a “key” item in the capital programme.

Mrs McGahey said the listed yard and its buildings represented an asset belonging to the town and the council had a duty to address the effects of deterioration. If the buildings were allowed to continue to decline, she warned, NIEA could bring enforcement action to bear.

The minutes record that: “The chief executive said the capital outlay required on numerous projects currently was due to the number of years when embargoes were imposed on investing in council assets and many were in a state of deterioration or dilapidation. She recommended that Council had no alternative but to proceed with the project.”

Cllr Martin Wilson asked if the quality of the scheme would be jeopardised by reductions in the specification. Town development manager Hazel Bell told him that the specification had changed in some areas, giving the example of a Tobermore finish rather than granite for the surface of the courtyard area. The consultants had ensured that the high-specification items were the visible features.

Cllr Maureen Morrow enquired about the prospects for generating income after the work is finished. Mrs Bell replied that the existing house would feature two small offices and a meeting room, to be let. The auction house would provide a community room and open sheds would be enclosed to provide indoor space for let.

Cllrs voted by a majority to proceed with the scheme. Ald Fulton asked to be recorded as voting against.

Cllr John Mathews, who has been a long-time advocate for regeneration of the market yard, said this week he was “absolutely delighted” that the scheme is to proceed.

“We have to do it because we have to invest in the infrastructure of the town and the many fine buildings owned by the council. We have made a great job of the town hall, a prime asset, which has been beautifully restored.

“It has taken a long time to get the market yard project to this stage. It is a much reduced scheme than the one originally envisaged and if we had been able to get it done all those years ago it would have cost substantially less.”