New hope for Larne market yard project

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THE long-awaited regeneration of Larne Market Yard could go ahead under a reduced scheme, it has been revealed.

The council has spent more than 10 years trying to source funding for the project, which was previously expected to cost over £1.7 million. The local authority has set aside £1.35 million from its capital budget towards the redevelopment.

But Town Development Manager Hazel Bell now feels that virtually all funding avenues have been “exhausted”, and has recommended that the project be scaled back to lower the overall cost.

The new scheme discards previous plans to create workshop areas in the rear sheds and offices of the Market House, as well as reducing works to the storage shed on the Circular Road wall of the yard. These portions of the buildings will be repaired and maintained to ensure their long-term future.

However, previous proposals to refurbish the market house, upgrade and enclose the main shed and fully restore the auction house are retained under the reduced scheme.

It is expected that these reductions will cut the overall budget by about £300,000, taking it to £1.4 million. This figure includes all construction costs, fees and surveys.

The project consultants also anticipate that there could be further savings when the bill of quantities is being drawn up for the project.

At Monday’s meeting of the Development Commitee in Smiley Buildings, members were told that a funding application to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for £330,000 had fallen through.

She added: “DETI carried out an economic appraisal of the proposals and have now advised that they are unable to support the project. It concluded that there is no demand at present for this type of workspace within the local creative industry sector and that there is an overprovision of business units in the town.”

Members expressed their frustration with the Department’s decision to pull the plug on the funding application.

Alderman Roy Beggs added: “I would have thought there would be a more positive response from the Department, and we should be deploring this lack of support.”

Chief executive Geraldine McGahey agreed that DETI’s decision was “disappointing” and said she would be happy to convey members’ “abhorrence” to the Department.

However, Mrs Bell informed councillors that the remaining cost of the project could be met by a £250,000 contribution from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Historic Buildings grant.

She added that if the NIEA grant was not available, the scheme would be reduced further so that cost of the project would not exceed the £1.35 million allocated by the council.

Cllr John Mathews thanked the officer for her report and said: “This is an important scheme for the borough and one we can capitalise on. I want to lavish praise on Hazel for her work. This has not been an easy road and we have faced delay after delay.”

Cllr Maureen Morrow described the Market Yard as an integral piece of Larne’s history that must be restored to ensure it is not lost.

This was echoed by Cllr Roy Craig, who said: “This project is a big expense, but if we do not look after what we have, it will be an even greater expense further down the line.”

However, Cllr Craig expressed concerns at Mrs Bell’s recommendation to proceed with the project even if NIEA funding was not available.

“I would be apprehensive about going forward with this scheme by ourselves and would not support that recommendation,” he said.

Ald Beggs added: “It is sending out the wrong message by saying that we will go ahead with the project even if no money is forthcoming from NIEA.”

In the end, members agreed that they would only proceed with the scheme if NIEA committed funding.

Mrs Bell said NIEA required the priced bill of quantities for the project before it was able to make a specific grant offer.

The consultants for the scheme have suggested that as tenders will be invited early in 2012, it would be appropriate for the council to advertise for a new select list to ensure up to date information and a competitive list for tendering.

It is expected that a new select list will be made to the council by January, tenders invited in February, and the contract awarded before the end of March.