By Patricia Devlin
JUST over twenty people in the Mid-Ulster area are set to be affected by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s relocation to Ballykelly.
A total of 845 DARD staff are currently headquartered at Dundonald House and Hydebank and are within the scope of the transfer from Belfast to the new north-west headquarter site.
According to figures nine civil servants from Magherafelt, four from Cookstown and one from Maghera are currently based in Belfast and will be part of the move to the former Shackleton Army barracks site.
The data also revealed that nine people living in the BT70 and BT71 postal code areas of Dungannon will also be affected.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill revealed the statistics in response to a written question from TUV MLA Jim Allister. The figures were collated using postal code areas with a total of 51 departmental staff marked as “no post code held”.
Minister O’Neill announced the plans to move her department headquarters last month. It was met with huge disappointment from local elected representatives who had hoped Cookstown’s Loughry College site would be chosen for the decentralisation move.
Work on the new site is expected to commence as early as next year, with the new headquarters ready for occupation during 2015.
Speaking about the benefits the move will bring to the north-west, Mrs O’Neill said: “As well as the construction jobs supported through the refit of the accommodation at the site, local businesses and suppliers in the area will benefit from a much larger customer base. The new headquarters will need to be serviced, with functions such as cleaning, catering and security services which will impact on employment in the area.”
“I will also ensure that the development of the site benefits the local community – how that will be met will be included in the business case but I envisage, for example Department being able to open up its conference rooms for community use.
“As well as that this relocation will open up employment and promotion opportunities for the people living in the local area. It will also ensure greater accessibility to DARD services for those living in the region.”
I believe that this relocation to Ballykelly emphasises that DARD is a Department that promotes regional economic re-balancing and is committed to the sustainability of rural communities.”