REGIONAL Development Minister Danny Kennedy has acknowledged “strong representations” for a better deal for Larne in the new Regional Development Strategy.
Councillors and Larne Traders’ Forum representatives put the case to Mr Kennedy when he visited the town last Thursday. It was a private meeting at Smiley Buildings, but beforehand the minister told the Larne Times that he would take into account the lobbyists’ assertion that, in draft form, the 15-year blueprint for future growth left Larne very much out in the cold.
In its response to the public consultation, the council told DRD that the document reflected “what appears to be central government policy of the downgrading of Larne”.
Mr Kennedy - who took over the DRD portfolio from Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy after the Assembly election in the summer - said last week: “The consultation period has now closed and we are considering the responses and the way forward. To a certain extent, I inherited the strategy in its current status and I am determined to look very closely at the representations from the council and the traders’ forum. I understand the concerns that they have raised.”
The Ulster Unionist minister revealed that he hopes to present the next RDS draft to Executive colleagues by the end of the year.
In their submissions to the Department, both the council and the traders’ forum expressed disappointment.
The local authority stated before the May election: “During the term of this Council, we have fought hard to retain and develop services for our constituents. It is therefore with great disappointment that at the close of our tenure we respond to the Shaping Our Future (RDS 2025) – 10 year review consultation – which continues to reflect what appears to be central government policy of the downgrading of Larne.
“We had hoped that Larne’s strategic role as the second-largest port for the region, and its unique position on the North East coast, would be given careful consideration. However, it appears clear from the document that little, if any consideration, has been afforded to the future economic development of Larne borough, as reflected in the throw-away line: ‘Larne, is a large town just outside the Belfast catchment and just inside the Ballymena. It has a gateway role and may not be appropriate for it to cluster’.”
The council urged DRD to consider clustering the borough with the west of Scotland, in the same way that it is proposed to link Newry and Dundalk economically.
Otherwise, they suggested, Larne should be in a cluster with Ballymena and Carrickfergus - the boroughs it is to be joined with when the new super-councils come into being.
The traders’ forum submission also demanded a “higher order role” for Larne and claimed: “The current proposals would mean that it would be extremely difficult for Larne to attract economic development, other than port-related functions; to build in functional sustainability, a wider economic base needs to be supported and developed.”