MLA hits out at barracks sale plan
The failure to draw up a community-backed master plan for a former military base before it was put up for sale has been branded "mind-boggling".
Local residents, business leaders, political representatives and other stakeholders were not properly consulted by the First and Deputy First Ministers before inviting expressions of interest for the Shackleton barracks site at Ballykelly, Co Londonderry, an MLA has claimed.
The Second World War RAF base was gifted to the Stormont Executive by the MoD in 2011 as part of the Hillsborough Agreement.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have now commissioned a selling agent to seek prospective buyers for the 720-acre site.
East Londonderry Assembly Member John Dallat said the "mind-boggling" move had come as a "bolt from the blue".
"This decision puts paid to any notion of a master plan or any kind of professional assessment as how to maximise job creation, protect its environment or carry out any kind of consultation with the local communities who will bear the impact of whatever happens there in the future," said the SDLP representative.
"This truly is an amazing decision which underlines the lack of vision and connectivity in the Assembly Executive and the inability to engage with stakeholders and other interested parties who would want to influence the future of Shackleton for the common good of the wider community.
"There is now real concern that the site will be 'asset-stripped' of the best sections while the remainder is not utilised in the way it should."
He added: "I just hope that having acquired the site in haste, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister isn't now planning to dispose of the site in equal haste with no added value, no direction and the potential for a shambles."
The site, which sits on the shores of Lough Foyle, was crucial for the RAF during the war, providing one of the most westerly Allied bases in Europe for Coastal Command aircraft protecting the Atlantic convoys.
It remained as an RAF station for more than 25 years after the war before being taken over by the Army.
The cost of decontaminating the derelict site is to top £8 million. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) plans to relocate its base from Belfast to Ballykelly in three years.
A spokesman for the OFMDFM said no preferred use for the overall site had been agreed.
"Shackleton Barracks at Ballykelly was gifted to the Executive in November 2011 as part of the Hillsborough Agreement. The site was gifted at no cost to the Executive," he said.
"This is not a new decision to sell the site. OFMDFM are seeking 'Expressions of Interest' which are welcome from small, medium, or large space occupiers, developers and investors. No preferred use has been determined for this 720-acre site.
"OFMDFM believes that it would now be useful to test the market to determine the level of interest and the potential ideas and uses for the site through a soft market testing exercise."
A spokesman for DARD said the department was still committed to moving its headquarters to a 10-acre portion of the site.
"The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Michelle O'Neill) remains committed to relocating her departmental headquarters to the former military base at Shackleton Barracks in Ballykelly," he said.
"This is in line with the Executive's target in the Programme for Government to advance the relocation of DARD headquarters to a rural location."
He said the market testing exercise had taken account of DARD's relocation plans.