Sandy Bay marina proposal ‘is nothing more than a smoke screen’ – McKee

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A PROPOSAL that could have authorised council officers to invite proposals from anyone interested in establishing a marina at Sandy Bay has been blown out of the water this week.

As reported in the Larne Times, the local authority commissioned consultants Scott Wilson to carry out a feasibility study into the potential for marina and watersports provision in the borough.

They came up with a list of five potential sites at Curran Point, Magheramorne, Howden’s Quay, Sandy Bay and an extension at the council-owned marina at Glenarm.

Despite Sandy Bay being ranked bottom of the list in the consultant’s report, a majority of Larne councillors backed a proposal that earmarked the location was the “only hope” for marina facilities in the borough.

To this end, Councillor Gregg McKeen submitted a motion at Monday night’s meeting of the development committee, seconded by Alderman Roy Beggs, which proposed: “Further to the decision of Larne Council regarding provision of a marina at Sandy Bay, council authorises its officers to invite proposals from interested parties to deliver on council’s aspiration for a marina, and also for water-based recreation provision at Browns Bay and Carnfunnock Bay”.

Cllr McKeen told members: “Times are hard now and the economy is down, but it will not stay like that forever and we need to plan for the future. We need to enhance what we have.”

But he also acknowledged that there was scope for marina provision at other locations in the borough, as outlined in the Scott Wilson report.

“I am not saying that these other identified by the consultants sites should be ruled out. We should be enquiring from landowners what their views are on the potential for marina facilities at these locations,” he added.

Ald Beggs said he was happy to second the proposal and added: “I am confident that the chief executive will ensure this is advertised in such a way that we will not experience the same difficulties we did in the past and the public will be kept informed of what is happening.”

Ald Beggs also claimed the creation of a marina at Sandy Bay did not necessarily have to mean the end of the promenade.

“This all becomes highly emotionalised because of the misinformation projected in the past that the promenade would be done away with. The reality is that if there was to be a marina at Sandy Bay at no cost to the council, the promenade would simply be re-routed,” he added.

However, Ald Jack McKee branded the motion a “smoke screen” and claimed it was designed to bring a marina to the promenade “through the back door”.

“The promenade belongs to the people of Larne and hundreds of people use it on a daily basis. That area has healing qualities, and many people go down there for a dander to enjoy the ambiance,” he added.

“I agree that Larne does need a marina, but I don’t think we should be handing over part of our heritage to get it. The people of Larne deserve better than that.

“I have fought two or three elections on the basis that we do not need a marina at Sandy Bay and the people of Larne have supported that. I have to stick to my mandate.”

Cllr Roy Craig echoed Ald McKee’s views and described the motion as “disingenuous”.

“I agree that this motion is trying to bring a marina to Sandy Bay through the back door, which is something we have fought long and hard against over the years. The people of Larne don’t want a marina at that location,” he added.

Chief executive Geraldine McGahey told members that if they were seeking expressions of interest, they would need to be “very clear” on what exactly it was they were inviting.

“We can’t simply put forward an advertisement inviting expressions of interest. We have to be clear on a number of things, such as what kind of development would be acceptable and whether we are selling or leasing land,” she added.

But Councillor Brian Dunn felt that the wording of the motion was “too tight” and claimed it would “bind the council too much”.

In an attempt to remedy this, he proposed an amendment to the motion, which stated simply that the council should seek to invite proposals from interested parties to deliver on council’s aspiration for water-based activities in the borough. He added that this would not rule out the possibility of a marina.

However, the amended proposal was defeated by seven votes to five. Councillors then voted on the original motion, which was again defeated by the same margin of votes.

Meanwhile, members also received correspondence from John Anderson on behalf of Larne Promenade Action Group (LPAG), which questioned the validity of Cllr McKee’s motion.

The letter stated: “Vague references to a so-far undocumented decision and an aspiration are not an appropriate, transparent or accountable basis for expressions of interest of this nature to be sought.

“The impression given over many years is of a council following behind the aspiration of one or two of its members in relation to a particular piece of public land, and the proposal presented for tonight’s meeting appears to be more of the same.”

Mr Anderson also reminded the council that LPAG had submitted a request to the chief executive under the Freedom of Information Act. The lobby group, which since 1990 has opposed plans for a marina adjacent to the promenade, wants to see all minutes relating to the council’s commissioning of a consultants’ report on marina and water sports potential, along with all minutes reporting debate on drafts of the report.

The FOI request was submitted on January 25, and the 20 day response period was due to expire yesterday (Wednesday). On Monday, Mr Anderson said Larne Council had yet to provide any of the requested material.

At the committee meeting, Cllr Martin Wilson wanted assurances that the council was doing all it could to provide the information to LPAG prior to the deadline.

However, he added: “I would also like to know when LPAG held a meeting to discuss this and who proposed that they should write to Larne Borough Council. How do we know this was not just Mr Anderson acting on his own?”