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Man who oversaw Balmoral Show's move from Belfast to Lisburn leaves for fresh fields

By Chris McCullough

The outgoing head of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society (RUAS), who oversaw the move of its flagship Balmoral Show to Lisburn, has said he's "definitely not retiring" as he leaves after 11 years.

Colin McDonald, who has filled one of the biggest jobs in Northern Ireland's agriculture sector since 2006, said he had a "number of opportunities" in front of him.

News of his departure comes as the RUAS prepares to move its offices to Balmoral Park at the end of next week.

It has already moved its exhibitions business from Belfast's King's Hall - after selling the entire site - to the Eikon Centre at Balmoral Park on the site of the former Maze Prison outside Lisburn.

Mr McDonald (65) said: "I need to move on before I am past my sell-by date and I have a number of opportunities available to me. I am definitely not retiring.

"But I am not leaving the RUAS any time soon as there is still some work to do."

However, Mr McDonald would not divulge the nature of the opportunities he was considering.

His post is now being advertised, with a successor expected to be in place in time for the 2018 Balmoral Show.

The RUAS employs 17 full-time staff and has an annual turnover of around £3m.

Mr McDonald took the helm of the society in 2006 with the aim of restructuring its finances and in 2013 he oversaw the historic move of the Balmoral Show from its traditional King's Hall setting to the new location at the former jail site.

The show, which attracts around 90,000 visitors a year, was also held over four days for the first time in May this year.

The move from the King's Hall also enabled RUAS to exploit the potential of its prestigious BT9 location.

Mr McDonald said: "It was my job to restructure the finances of the RUAS and I am confident now they are in a better place with the ongoing development of the King's Hall showgrounds.

"As part of the restructure we needed to move the show to allow us to generate income from the King's Hall development."

Billy Robson, former president of the RUAS, said: "Colin took on the exercise of moving the show and disposing of the old grounds personally, and in my opinion was the best man for that difficult job.

"He is an individual who is happy to work away on his own and report to the RUAS finance committee every week.

"Moving the show took longer than the original time frame we had originally drawn up but time actually benefited the society as property prices went up in the midst of the actual move, generating more income when marketing the King's Hall site."

Mr Robson added the outgoing chief executive had pursued the plan to move to Lisburn with vigour.

"A lot of people thought the move was 'pie in the sky' but not Colin, who grasped the concept early on and made it happen," he said.

The 16-acre King's Hall site is to become the largest healthcare facility of its kind in Northern Ireland at a cost of £100m.

Benmore Healthcare Developments is the firm behind the project, which will include a care home, hotel and leisure areas, and it aims to create a "one-stop shop" for healthcare.

Mr McDonald previously worked at Belfast Harbour, helping develop a series of buildings on the estate, including the James Clow apartments. He also had roles at Taggart engineering, W&R Barnett and animal food firm Thompsons.

4C Executive Search in Belfast is managing the assignment to recruit a new chief executive for the RUAS.

Belfast Telegraph

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