UUP MLA: Cost of Ballykelly DARD move ‘spiralling’

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The Sinn Féin Minister behind plans to move hundreds of civil service jobs to Ballykelly has hit back at suggestions that the cost of the move is “spiralling”.

UUP MLA Joanne Dobson, who recently came under fire from local MP Gregory Campbell for her position on the relocation of the jobs to the North West, made the suggestion at Stormont this week.

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Minister Michelle O’Neill is planning to move her department’s headquarters to a site located within the Executive-owned former Shackleton military base in Ballykelly.

The move would see hundreds of moderately well-paid and secure jobs based permanently in Ballykelly, although the plan to move the jobs from Belfast to the North West has been met with some degree of opposition at Stormont.

At Stormont on Monday, the Minister was asked whether the move represented good “value for money” by UUP MLA Joanne Dobson.

Ms Dobson faced recent criticism from DUP MP Gregory Campbell for her position on the jobs move.

She said: “I am just sorry that Gregory Campbell is not in the chamber to hear the answer, but anyway. The costs for the project have been spiralling, not least since the Minister’s hopes to save £26 million by using the existing buildings on the site were later dismissed. Can she give a commitment that, in light of the ongoing absence of a business plan, as well as a possible alternative of utilising the empty Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) buildings in Coleraine, the project represents the best value for public money?”

Mrs O’Neill replied: “Yes, I am absolutely confident that it represents value for money. The Member’s information about the costs spiralling is wrong. The costs have been outlined in the outline business case and, as I said, we are coming to the conclusion of the full business case. The benefits that the project will bring to the north-west and to the rural community as a whole will be that it will create public-sector jobs in the area, and there will be ongoing servicing of the building as well as the construction of the building. All those benefits speak for themselves. It is about time that we had all Departments looking towards the needs of rural communities and those people from rural communities who work in the greater Belfast area now to access employment.

“The benefits for the project are second to none. The benefits for the rural community are second to none. I am committed to making sure that we deliver on my headquarters going to Ballykelly.”