Council to invest £200k stake in public realm project

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COUNCILLORS have agreed that the local authority should invest £200,000 in the hope of securing a £2 million upgrade for Larne town centre.

The council is keen to persuade the Department for Social Development to provide 90 per cent of the funding required for a “public realm” scheme similar to those already undertaken in Ballymena and Carrickfergus - Larne’s future partner towns in the reform of public administration (RPA).

The work is aimed at making the town centre more attractive to visitors and investors, as well as contributing to the sustainability of existing businesses.

However, before it will part with the cash, the Department - which has pencilled in the facelift for 2014-15 - is now seeking a commitment from the local authority.

After a confidential briefing recently, town development manager Hazel Bell won the approval of council to proceed with the appointment of a consultancy team to prepare initial design work.

The scheme is part of the DSD masterplan for the town centre which also has input from the council and Roads Service. Mrs Bell explained that as there is “considerable preparatory work” involved in developing such a project, it is “important that all partners work closely together”.

DSD provides councils with capital grants to fund the improvements, but seeks a contribution of at least 10 per cent from the local authorities. Mrs Bell said a commitment from Smiley Buildings to invest £200,000 “would help lever the remaining balance of up to £2m to pay for the initial design work and economic appraisal, so that the bid could go to DSD for the full capital funds”.

The officer cautioned that any award of grant would be subject to a satisfactory business case and sufficient resources within the Department. She said DSD had not made a firm commitment to fund the scheme “at this stage”, although provision had been made in the Department’s capital programme for 2014-15. She added that the council’s own contribution would be rolled out over a period of time and an initial outlay of £40,000-£50,000 might not all be incurred in the present financial year.

Mrs Bell added that DSD has offered the council the services of the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) to provide construction procurement advice and could arrange for the council to appoint an integrated consultant team. CPD’s charges would be paid for by DSD, which would prepare terms of reference for the appointment of the consultancy team, in conjunction with the council.

Deputy mayor, Cllr Mark McKinty, who sits on the masterplan group with DSD officials, commented that he believed the chance of obtaining funds was “very good”, should the council take the initial risk and he proposed accordingly. His seconder, Ald Roy Beggs, said the opportunity should not be missed, provided that the council could meet the 2012-13 commitment given the unexpected £250,000 shortfall in rates revenue due to a generator failure at AES Ballylumford.

Ald Winston Fulton was wary of making a commitment, given that the council already had significant overheads “forced” on it over the next three years. However, Ald Jack McKee said he felt the council had a duty of care to maintain the town centre.