War of words erupts over Ballykelly army homes

A WAR of words has erupted over the sale of housing at the former military barracks in Ballykelly with two MLAs clashing over the issue.

The 103 houses, in two enclosed units, at Walworth Drive and Foyle Drive in Ballykelly went on sale last week, however, the homes are not being offered to individual buyers but are being sold as two lots.

One site, covering seven acres contains 37 large homes formerly used for officer accommodation including seven detached and one large house which was the commander's dwelling.

The other location, covering 30 acres, was used to accommodate other ranks and holds 66 dwellings, 14 of them detached and the rest semi-detached.

SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat said that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) should "curb its greed" and release the housing stock at the former barracks in Ballykelly for use as social housing.

Mr Dallat stated: "In the current economic climate it is hard to believe that any private company would have the funds and commitment to pay the prices the British Army has quoted for this housing.

"In all likelihood the entire site will remain unused for the foreseeable future. That would be a damning waste of resources which could be made available to the public, and a damning indictment of the unnecessary greed of the Ministry of Defence.

"The SDLP have a petition containing over 400 signatures in the area calling on the Army to release the site for use as social housing. People in the locality have lived with the army in the area for decades.

"They have at times been placed directly in the firing line, in a conflict they had nothing to do with, alongside a military presence they did not ask for.

"They deserve something tangible back in return.

"There is currently a real crisis in social housing, a shortage which could be alleviated by the Army handing over this site to the Housing Executive.

"That would be the clearest sign for the people of Ballykelly, that demilitarisation and normalisation can have a real impact.

"It would help alleviate the massive housing shortages currently being experienced in the Limavady area. This is a crucial matter which must be addressed.

"It is a litmus test for the British Army to step up to the mark. I hope that in the coming weeks there will be some movement on taking the only sensible option with regard to the barracks, and that meetings involving the Department of Social Development will have a positive outcome."

In reply Ulster Unionist MLA David McClarty criticized Mr Dallat for his remarks.

Mr McClarty commented: "I am deeply concerned with Mr Dallat's comments when he claimed that the British Army needed 'to curb their greed' in Ballykelly. These negative comments are both unnecessary and unhelpful and must be condemned particularly in the current financial circumstances.

"Limavady has suffered hugely over the last twelve months with the closure of Seagate, a huge employer coupled with HUCO an inward investment company. These losses in addition to the withdrawal of security forces from Ballykelly have had drastic repercussions locally as jobs which were withdrawn have never been replaced.

"As for his derogatory remarks referring to 'army occupation' may I personally and on behalf of the people of Ballykelly offer my sincere thanks to the Army for their huge investment in the area, they have provided huge amounts of money for the local economy over the years."

He continued: "I think it would be wonderful if the site were sold off in sections as reinvestment would no-doubt lead to job creation and a boost to the local economy. In Mr Dallat's comments he fails to fully understand the loss felt by people within the community in Ballykelly. Not only have we lost jobs but our schools are not as full and local businesses have suffered dramatically.

"While I would support the idea of social housing as there is a dearth of it throughout this constituency, we should also try to be more imaginative with the site.

"It has huge potential for housing but additionally for leisure facilities, tourist attractions and perhaps a new railway junction to aid infrastructure."

Mr McClarty concluded: "I do believe that the sale of the site would afford the government the opportunity to reinvest in Limavady and I eagerly await anything which may help the area move forward."