Loughry a potential home for DARD HQ?

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SPECULATION has been mounting that the relocation of the Department of Agriculture (DARD) headquarters will be built at the Loughry College site, outside Cookstown.

It is believed that up to 800 jobs could move to Cookstown under new proposals set in place by the Department.

The DARD Minister Michelle Gildernew has confirmed that money has been allocated to fund the moving of the headquarters from Dundonald House in Belfast.

As the Sinn Fein MP already works at least one day a week there, it is thought that the Loughry site would be best suited for such a move.

The latest draft budget report also states that the relocation of DARD Headquarters outside the Greater Belfast area “would enhance the quality and availability of public sector jobs in rural communities”.

Ms Gildernew said that the new headquarters would be developed in compliance with the recommendation in the Bain report, which tests the viability of placing a departmental headquarters at a location outside the Greater Belfast area.

She said: “This is an exciting prospect. It will bring decision-taking on agriculture and rural development into the heart of the community we serve, bringing government closer to the people.

“I see this relocation as an important first step to relocate a significant share of the public sector jobs to rural areas, bringing economic and social benefits from increased local spending and access to high quality and local employment.”

Mid Ulster MLA Billy Armstrong said the move would be a tremendous boost for Cookstown and would bring jobs and investment to the area.

He said: “Loughry College is very much centrally located and road links are improving all the time. With the M1 and M2 motorways which are both well linked to the area and the A29 which is being improved, it is easily accessible from any part of the country.

“And when you are thinking about moving this amount of people, is it important to get public transport that will drop them off at the door and I have been working on improving bus links from towns such as Coleraine and Armagh”

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said he intends to write to Ms Gildernew’s Department to establish whether the Cookstown site would be a strong contender for the relocation of the headquarters.

Mr McGlone told the MID that he will table the question in the Assembly, “What assessment has been made of the availability of office facilities for the Department in Mid Ulster; (ii) What plans there are for the decentralisation of the Department to make best use of this accommodation; and (ii) What is the timescale for implementation of these plans.”

The announcement comes as it was revealed the Department is to cut 80 posts from its workforce of more than 2,700 staff and confirmed they are taking a range of steps to manage the expected reduction in the number of posts, such as an embargo on recruitment and promotion.

The DARD also intend to cut compensation paid to farmers for cattle culled because of tuberculosis or brucellosis.

These reductions are part of the department’s draft budget which aims to save more than £43m over the next four years.