Larne marina report is found lacking by council

A SPECIAL meeting of Larne Borough Council is to discuss marina provision in the area.

Having agreed recently that a marina and water-based activities would benefit the borough, the next step is for councillors to discuss the fine detail of a preliminary report compiled by their consultants.

The experts were to have attended a development committee meeting last month, but failed to turn up. In their absence, chief executive Geraldine McGahey said it had been hoped the report would provide a template for the local authority, but it appeared the document raised more questions than it provided answers.

Mrs McGahey told councillors she would have preferred to see “stronger recommendations” from the consultants and she queried a table that scored a number of potential locations: they were supposed to be rated on a scale from 1-5 but some had been marked zero.

It was also unclear how each location should be scored in terms of job creation and tourism growth.

The chief officer added that the report failed to provide clear direction as to how the council could influence marina development, or act as a catalyst.

Mrs McGahey advised elected members that it would be better to establish which locations the council “might have power to influence”. She explained that Lafarge had made clear that they did not wish to include a marina in the Magheramorne regeneration plan and the council wanted guidance from its consultants as to how the company could be “influenced to develop that type of activity on that site”.

The consultants have already told the council that the developer at the Howden’s site had chosen not to build a marina, citing the potential for adverse impact on environmental planning compliance, given Larne Lough’s designation as an area of special scientific importance. Mrs McGahey pointed out that the environmental factor had been listed as “not known” by the consultants in their appraisal of Howden’s Quay and likewise at Magheramorne and Curran Point, whilst Sandy Bay had been marked with a zero.

All these issues needed to clarified, she said.

The highest-scoring location in the report was the council-owned marina at Glenarm. Development there would entail either an extension of the basin or lengthening the pontoon. However, Mrs McGahey explained that both options conflict with the agreed Glenarm masterplan and that was not reflected in the scoring.

The chief executive stated that there was not a sufficient case to enable officers to approach any landowners to offer council support in delivering new facilities.

Cllr Gregg McKeen said issues raised with the consultants had not been taken on board and he was disappointed at what had been presented in the final report.

Cllr John Mathews proposed, Ald Roy Beggs seconded and the council resolved that members should forward their views to the chief executive, who was to report to the consultants, with a special council meeting to follow.

Ald Beggs expressed his opinion that the scoring was “incomprehensible” in respect of Sandy Bay and he wanted to discuss matters further with the consultants.

Larne council advertised its interest in marina development as far back as 1989 and adopted Larne Marina Consortium’s proposals for a marina-apartments complex at Sandy Bay. The original LMC planning application is at appeal and a revised marina village scheme was refused.

In 2010, the council commissioned a feasibility study after the Local Government Auditor advised councillors to consider the “relevance” of the LMC project. The consortium contests legal advice to the council which indicated there was no binding agreement between the two parties.

Council handling of the marina issue was called into question in 2008, after an Ombudsman’s report criticised Smiley Buildings procedures when appointing a developer to partner it in the regeneration of Glenarm.

A subsequent trawl of files discovered that correspondence from the auditor’s office regarding the marina project had not been passed on to councillors when they were first deciding how to proceed with the controversial scheme.