The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that while it fully supports moving public sector jobs into rural areas, it still has reservations over the relocation of DARD’s Headquarters to Ballykelly.
The union was commenting after planning approval for the new site was confirmed.
“Despite the economic boost rural communities in the North-West may experience as a result of this move, there are some obvious downsides,” said UFU deputy president Barclay Bell.
He said the UFU had consistently questioned the logic of spending a large amount of money on a single re-location project, when an existing network of DARD Direct Offices throughout Northern Ireland could be used.
Mr Bell said the impact of the move on DARD staff could be overlooked.
“It’s encouraging there is interest across the civil service to work at Ballykelly. But our concern is that many of DARD’s existing, experienced, and qualified staff may not be in a position to move, because of family commitments in commuting distance to the current DARD HQ in Belfast,” said Mr Bell.
He added that this meant there was a serious risk DARD will lose a wealth of expertise, jeopardising the standard of service farmers receive.
“With planning now approved, the most important thing for our members is that DARD is in a position to deliver first rate front-line services. This is about advising farmers, but it is also vital that the many different programmes in the agriculture sector are fairly and efficiently administered,” said the UFU deputy president.