Friday, 22 November 2013

Doing better for Randalstown

Several years ago Randalstown was fortunate to access funding to commence the process of upgrading the public realms works at the lower end of the town and over the bridge. The intention was that the remainder of the town would be completed when money was available. The funding has been available, some £650,000 but regrettably due to the actions of a few traders and politicians the entire investment is about to be lost. This will have a significant negative impact on the town in the longer term. When answering a recent question about improvements in Comber the Minister of Social Development replied “There is very clear evidence that public realm works, as part of a wider package of measures in a town centre, can make a real difference to the town centre. Revitalisation schemes for shops nearby can often add to that. Generally, a public realm scheme emerges out of a master plan for a town centre. That is a great opportunity for all those involved — the local authority, local traders, businesspeople and my officials — to work together to see what is the best way forward for that town centre. It is a very challenging time for town centres. Recent figures for empty properties were quoted. We need to boost town centres by making them more attractive and by encouraging greater footfall and more people to shop there and, thereby, provide greater viability for traders.” Unfortunately refusal to permit the completion of the public realm works will leave Randalstown well behind areas such as Antrim and Ballymena where extensive improvements are being made to entice shoppers into town centres. As the town deteriorates shoppers will travel elsewhere and those who will suffer will be the very traders who have blocked progress. There may still be time to complete the scheme to the benefit of traders and residents. Randalstown deserves the best.

Managing the merger

“While ratepayers will be aware of the careful management of ratepayers funds by Antrim Council over the years they will be shocked at some of the practices currently in place in Newtownabbey. For example the Mayor of Newtownabbey is transported to events in the Mayoral car an extravagance which a conservative estimate suggests costs the combined local government rates of 150 households. Ratepayers in Newtownabbey may have been happy with this state of affairs over the years but it is clear in this time of austerity and declining household incomes the Newtownabbey system of local administration needs to change. A major issue going forward will be the massive indebtedness that Newtownabbey will bring to the table as the most indebted council in Northern Ireland. With an annual rates income of £24 million Newtownabbey has a debt of some £47 million pounds based on figures from the Department of the Environment. Antrim in contrast has a capital debt of some £20 million with an annual income of £18 million. While the interest rates obtained may be generous a general principle that the debt burden should not exceed the annual income is a sensible position to take. The new Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has much work to do to achieve a balanced position at the same time as maintaining high levels of service provision. With that in mind the little extras such as the Mayoral car will need to be set aside for the benefit of ratepayers both domestic and business.”