A deal to transfer 40 acres of land on the site of Ballymena bus builder Wrightbus into public ownership is being finalised, it has emerged.
The land at Lisnafillan had been argued over during negotiations between the Wright family and the company's eventual new owner, Bamford Bus Company, last year.
In a compromise shareholder Jeff Wright, whose father Sir William Wright co-founded the company, then agreed for the 40 acres to be transferred to the people of Ballymena through an arrangement with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Now the council has announced that members have approved the sealing of the transfer of lands at Lisnafillan for possible use as a manufacturing site.
The land is understood to be worth around £700,000.
The transfer had been held up due to negotiations over conditions, including a stipulation that the land would not be used for housing, but must instead be used to further economic development.
DUP mayor Peter Johnston said: "This is brilliant news for Ballymena and Mid and East Antrim as a whole. This site will play a vital role in our economic growth in the coming years and the timing of this announcement is even more significant as we work to rebuild and recover our economy post-Covid.
"The proposed transformation of the lands into manufacturing space will be driven by the council and we have already had strong interest from a number of major firms."
Speaking at the time of the initial deal for the sale of Wrightbus out of administration to Bamford Bus Company last year, Jeff Wright said he was gifting 40 acres of "family-owned farmland" to the council as a legacy for the people of Ballymena in recognition of their contribution over 70 years to the service of Wrightbus.
"This legacy gift is a tribute not only to my father, his father before him, and the Wright family members, but most importantly it is a tribute to the generations of workers who helped build a proud manufacturing tradition in Ballymena.
"It is my true wish to see this legacy used for the purposes of expanding manufacturing and benefiting our local community."
DUP councillor Gregg McKeen, who was involved in discussions over the deal, said yesterday: "While this process has taken longer than initially expected and has been hugely challenging due to a number of conditions placed on the deal, it's great news we have negotiated to this position.
"I'm proud of council's role in both the transition of the company and the securing of this site.
"Sir William Wright CBE is rightly renowned as a global leader in manufacturing and innovation, and his contribution to Ballymena and Northern Ireland will be continued through this legacy land."
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley added: "This has been a real team effort in Mid and East Antrim. Last year the situation at Wrightbus was bleak and we were staring at the very real possibility of the gates being shut. It has been an extremely challenging time for many but this announcement today gives us very real hope.
"I am delighted that today the factory is open, under the superb direction of Jo Bamford."
Last year Mr Bamford and Jeff Wright were at loggerheads over whether or not all the land on the former JTI Gallaher's site in Ballymena, where Wrightbus is now based, were included. It's understood Mr Bamford had regarded the land as part of the deal. The compromise for the land to be transferred to the public via the council was then agreed.