The Chief Executive of Larne Football Club wants a major sports and hotel complex to be developed on derelict ground at Inver Road to turn Larne into a sports and leisure destination.
Mervyn McKay spoke out after the nine-acre plot of land at the Old Bleach Works, located beside his club’s ground, was placed on the market for £250,000 last week.
An advertisement for the plot says it “may be suitable for residential or commercial development, subject to obtaining planning permission.”
A planning application to create a commercial development comprising a retail food store, business unit and community enterprise unit on the site was lodged by JTJ Ltd in September 2014, but planners have not yet made a decision on the proposal.
The application has met with objections from Larne Traders’ Forum and Northern Ireland Retail Traders Association (NIRTA), who cited concerns over traffic and the impact on town centre businesses.
A separate 2009 planning application to build a Tesco superstore at Inver Park was refused by planners.
Mr McKay believes the town would be better served by a sports complex and hotel at the Old Bleach Works site, which he says would complement Larne FC’s plans for a new stadium and air dome at Inver Park.
“I don’t feel there is a need for a big retail development there, it would be better to turn it into a sports complex,” he told the Times.
“Not just for football but for rugby and even GAA, that whole area would be big enough to hold a venue for a sport competition.
“There is also room for a major hotel with fitness suites where competitors and visitors could stay.
“Everyone is getting into the sport and leisure industry and I believe that Larne can support a new sport and leisure complex.”
Larne FC has planning permission for a new 1,150 seater stand, 3G pitch and all-weather training facility covered by a dome at Inver Park.
The club is seeking £3million from the Department for Communities’ Sub Regional Stadia Programme for Soccer for the UEFA-standard facility.
“If we got a sports complex at the Old Bleach Works it would complement the plans for the dome and it would create a massive draw,” Mervyn continued.
“Competitions like the Super Cup NI are massive and there’s no reason we can’t have some sort of competition in East Antrim, invite teams from all over the world and put them up in a new hotel.
“I would also love to see the Old Bleach Works ground tided up, it’s the biggest eyesore coming into the town.
“We want to sell the town and the first thing you see coming into it is the old football ground and dereliction, it’s not a great signal for tourists who want to see a nice, wonderful place to stop.”
However, Mr McKay says the collapse of the Assembly has created a major stumbling block for the ambitious plans for Inver Park.
“Everything is in limbo,” he continued.
“Before the RHI scandal broke we were pretty confident of getting funding this year.
“We haven’t been applying for any other grants or doing improvements to the current ground as we have been waiting for this funding, so if we don’t get it we will be left behind.
“We applied for planning and spent money to get into a position to apply for funding and if that is taken away we are beat.”
Asked if the council would back the sports complex and hotel idea, a spokesperson for the local authority said that its planning department was “not in a position to comment.”