New ‘area plan’ for Larne

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MEA Council’s planning committee has proposed that council formulate a new MEA “area plan” to stimulate the area’s socio-economic future.

MEA Council’s planning committee has proposed that council formulate a new MEA “area plan” to stimulate the area’s socio-economic future.

During a meeting on April 9, committee members supported plans to embark on a four-year development process to create the new strategy.

Committee members have begun an “intelligence gathering” operation which will initially focus on Ballymena, Larne and Carrickfergus.

The group has viewed information from reports compiled for the old councils, which show the current state of these centres, to inform suggestions for the final Local Development Plan (LDP).

While the vitality ratings of Larne, Carrick and Ballymena all dropped during the 2005-2009 period, Larne experienced the greatest decline.

The report lists Larne’s strengths and opportunities as good accessibility and public transport, many local people using the town’s bars, pubs and eateries, having a comprehensive 15-year regeneration masterplan and ongoing environmental improvements.

The report also notes weaknesses, which include the bus and train station being detached from the town centre, a poor range of comparison shops including national multiples, major leakage of bulky goods expenditure to other towns, most town centre parking being situated on edge-of-town locations, poor pedestrian linkages between the town centre and Asda/the cinema, limited town centre family leisure activities, low footfall and high vacancies on secondary streets.

Chief Executive of MEA council Anne Donaghy said she was “keen to move forward with this process” and suggested a series of workshops, potentially commencing in May, to explain the aim of “securing the best socio-economic future” to local people.

Development Plan Principal Michael Francey said specialist consultants were needed. Councillor Gordon Lyons said Larne had “huge potential in tourism, but needs major improvement in the town centre. The proposals will be brought before the next full council meeting.