Call for Ballykelly HQ move to be halted

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The Ulster Unionist Party has called for the planned relocation of the DARD HQ to Ballykelly to be postponed.

It was one of a series of proposals that the party made in its formal consultation response to the draft DARD 2015/16 Budget.

Upper Bann MLA and UUP agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA said her party continues to strongly support the relocation of the headquarters of the Forestry Service to Enniskillen, Fisheries Division to Downpatrick and the Rivers Agency to Cookstown.

However, she said the relocation of the overall DARD HQ to Ballykelly is entirely different as she claimed there still remains no meaningful business case to justify the move.

Mrs Dobson added: “Value for money for a project which will cost in excess of £40m has never been demonstrated. Subsequently, repeated and serious concerns of officials across several Departments, including DARD itself, have been repeatedly overruled by the Minister. It is because of this that we want the plans to be postponed and for an independent investigation to be conducted before the proposed move proceeds any further.

“We believe that the move is being advanced solely for political reasons. The Minister needs to realise that if she proceeds with this project, it will not be her party paying for the financial consequences in the years to come but farmers as DARD services are reduced to make up the funding pressures. That would be entirely unacceptable, but for now it is still avoidable.”

Commenting on other areas of DARD expenditure, Mrs Dobson added: “In addition, as DARD has stated, it is set to cut hundreds of posts we have called on it to set the service provision and timescales of Basic Payments to farmers as a minimum benchmark in 2015/16.

“I have increasing concerns about the growing price tag of the new NI Food Animal Information System (NIFAIS). £2m has already been spent on the project already without it even existing and final projected costs have still to be confirmed. I believe these could be anywhere between £54-78m. My party believes the Department must revisit the business case for the NIFAIS before the commencement of 2015/16 in order to determine whether the costs of the project could be reduced.”

The UUP has also called on AFBI to close the gap between research and commercial application of research and innovation to deliver maximum financial benefit for the institute and the local agri-food industry. The UUP has also claimed there is significant scope, not yet identified by the Department, to reduce the duplication of inspections in conjunction with DOE/NIEA.