‘What is wrong with Larne?’

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LARNE councillors have expressed concerns about the number of services being withdrawn from the town.

Since the start of the year, Bank of Ireland and First Trust Bank have both announced they will be pulling the plug on their branches in Larne.

Meanwhile, Larne Magistrate’s Court is set to shut its doors for the last time at the end of this month, with all court business being transferred to Ballymena.

And local elected representatives are now asking what can be done to prevent further businesses and service providers from packing up and leaving the town.

Speaking at a meeting of the public services committee in Smiley Buildings on Monday, Alderman Winston Fulton said the loss of the banks and the Courthouse was “a bitter blow” to the town.

He told members: “Services are being removed from the town but nothing seems to be coming in to it.

“The First Trust Bank says you can use the branch in Carrickfergus instead, but my question is what is wrong with Larne? Why don’t these banks want to stay here? What can we do to prevent it?

“It is important that we have banks in the town as they create business. I would appeal for the Council to get in touch with the Finance Minister to try and find out why are these banks are leaving Larne.

“In terms of Larne Courthouse, we should be asking the Justice Minister what arrangements have been made for local people who will now have to travel to the court in Ballymena.

“If you don’t have a car then the only way to get there is by bus, and there is poor availability in that regard.”

Alderman McKee said he was “saddened” by the decision to close the court and added that it has led to “outrage in the local community”.

“It is yet another service gone from Larne,” he added. “I am not happy about it and I feel that we as a Council should still bare our teeth about the decision.

“I was also upset and annoyed about the closure of the First Trust Bank in the town.

“I was a loyal member of that bank for many years, but the bank has shown no loyalty shown to the people of Larne and I have now moved to a different bank.

“The closure of the branch has created a real dilemma for a lot of people in the town, particular elderly people, as switching banks is not easy.”

Cllr Roy Craig said the closure of the First Trust created a problem for local traders who have accounts with the bank and are now forced to travel to the Carrickfergus branch to lodge money.

Cllr John Mathews added: “I recently had to use the First Trust branch in Carrick and what little car parking there was to begin with has now disappeared because of the streetscaping programme.”

Ald Roy Beggs said he had “very real regret” over the closure of Larne Courthouse and proposed that the Council write to the Lord Chief Justice and the Justice Minister to “registering our disappointment at the removal from this service from Larne”.

He added that Larne’s district judge, Robert Alcorn has given “almost a lifetime of service” to the town and felt it was appropriate for the local authority to show their appreciation on behalf of the community.

Larne Mayor Gerardine Mulvenna said she would be happy to facilitate an event in the Mayor’s Parlour to acknowledge Mr Alcorn’s contribution to the town over the past two decades.

Justice Minister David Ford announced in December his intention to close Larne Courthouse and three other hearing centres across the province in a bid to cut costs in what he described as “a time of severe financial stringency”.

His decision came despite a campaign by Larne Borough Council to keep the historic Victoria Road facility open.

However, chief executive Geraldine McGahey told members there was still a possibility that partial court services could be retained in the town.

“We are working with the Courts Service to try and provide facilities for tribunals and family court hearings in council-owned premises. Negotiations are ongoing,” she concluded.