‘Serious reservations’ voiced over HQ move

UFU annual meeting at Greenmount. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

UFU annual meeting at Greenmount. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that despite the economic boost rural communities in the North West may experience as a result of DARD Headquarters moving to Ballykelly, farmers still have serious reservations over the plans.

UFU President Ian Marshall said: “While there will potentially be an economic boost for the Ballykelly area, there are still some obvious downsides – the first and most significant being the cost of the project.

“Recently the Minister confirmed that this cost has already increased from £41million to £45million and this is even before a single brick has been laid.

“The Union has always supported the creation of jobs in rural areas but has consistently questioned the appropriateness of spending a large amount of money on a single re-location project when there is already an existing network of DARD Direct Offices throughout Northern Ireland which could be used. Especially given the current economic climate and at a time when DARD has had to slash nearly 15% of its 2015-2016 budget with the likelihood of more cuts in the future,” added Mr Marshall.

“Also, the impact on DARD staff cannot be over looked. While it is encouraging that there is interest across the civil service to work at the Ballykelly location, the Union’s concern is that many of DARD’s existing, experienced, and qualified staff may not be in a position to move as they have based their families in the vicinity of the current DARD HQ at Dundonald House.

“There is a serious risk that DARD will lose a wealth of expertise, which will jeopardise the standard of service farmers receive.

“The most important thing for our members is that DARD is able to deliver an excellent front-line service in terms of advising farmers, and the many different schemes and projects which operate within the agriculture sector are fairly and efficiently administered.”

For more on the move of the DARD headquarters see page 19.