The deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness today joined Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill to meet villagers in Ballykelly to update them on the latest developments at Shackleton Barracks and to mark the start of work on the new DARD headquarters.
The visit comes on the heels of last week’s news that the former military base is to be sold to the MJM Group and that planning permission was granted for DARD to build its new HQ on an adjoining section of the 716 acre site.
The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said: “The recent approval of the DARD planning application combined with the private investment by MJM Group we announced last week puts Ballykelly and the North West on a different trajectory.
“This combination of private sector and public sector working alongside each other to develop and sustain the vast site means the entire community in Ballykelly benefits. This isn’t just about people in public sector jobs moving and keys changing hands, it is a culture shift and gear change in how Government operates.
“Having visited the Orchard Community Playgroup and called in to meet local traders there is a real renewed energy and enthusiasm in the area. I commend Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, and all those working on this project, for getting the development to this stage.”
Minister O’Neill said: “It’s great to be back in Ballykelly at this very exciting time and be able to update the community on this £20million investment coming to their village. With planning permission granted we will appoint a contractor within the next couple of weeks and see the diggers on site by the summer.
“Today marks the next phase in the building of the new HQ and recognises and celebrates this ground-breaking relocation initiative which I hope will transform how we deliver our public services and where we locate public sector jobs.”
During their visit to Ballykelly the Ministers met with traders, the local community association and a playgroup. Their first appointment was with staff and children at Orchard Community Playgroup which helps pre-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up in areas, including vocabulary and social skills. Here they mucked in and gave a helping hand as DARD staff, who have already relocated, took part in a spring-clean at the playgroup.
“I am confident this new rural headquarters will revolutionise the way we serve our rural and farming customers as well as bringing a long-awaited economic boost to the local construction industry, Ballykelly village and wider north west. We want to act as a catalyst to help create new jobs and secure existing employment. Some of our DARD staff have already relocated to the area in advance of the relocation and, as we witnessed here today, are starting to establish links with the local community and become part of village life,” the Minister added.
Minister O’Neill explained the importance of such volunteering initiatives: “We very much look forward to being part of daily life in the village and this is a first step in building links with the community, delivering tangible benefits to all, as we deliver our vision of a thriving and sustainable rural economy, community and environment to promote social and economic equality.”