Council in legal row over charity ambulance
A Nutts Corner businessman says he "won't back down" after a council launched legal action to force him to remove an ambulance due to be donated to a cancer charity from his property.
Simon Hamill, who has owned and operated The Yard Group auction business at the Co Antrim site for 30 years, hit out at officials from Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, who he says told him to remove the vehicle, destined for Northern Irish Cancer Care.
The charity provides free daily transport from patients' homes to hospitals and hospices.
Mr Hamill, who purchases vehicles to sell through his business, says he was approached by the charity to request the donation of a second-hand ambulance to help patients.
After agreeing to provide the vehicle, he parked it at the front of his site six months ago, and covered it in signs stating: 'Cancer care fund, donate now' to cover the £10,000 cost price.
So far he has raised £1,230 through donations.
However, he says that council planning officials have ordered that the charity ambulance be removed on the grounds that "retail is not permitted" on that section of the property.
"My aim was to put it out the front of the business, so that any clients who wanted to donate were aware of the fundraising initiative. The last time council officials came round was on Wednesday, when they told my staff that it didn't matter that the ambulance was for charity, I had to get it moved," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I have had this business here for 30 years and never had an issue with that portion of the site before this started.
"I have received numerous letters and visits to the site from the council asking me to remove the ambulance.
"The council has taken a civil action against me as I won't back down on this."
He made his first appearance at Antrim Courthouse yesterday to defend himself against the council's action.
"This whole situation beggars belief, and it has been very stressful," he added.
"It has cost me £20,000 to defend this so far - that would have bought two ambulances."
Northern Irish Cancer Care said the ambulance Mr Hamill is fundraising for is specially adapted for patients who can't stand up or sit.
"We have transported over 7,000 patients in our three ambulances over the last five years, 99.9% of whom have cancer," it said.
"The ambulance which Simon is donating is to transport patients on stretcher beds, which we can't do at the moment.
"We could transport hundreds more patients if we had this vehicle.
"Simon is making a kind gesture, we would support him and we would ask the council to have more compassion."
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: "Council officers visited this site as part of an ongoing enforcement investigation. As investigations are ongoing and subject to Court action, the council does not wish to comment any further at this time."