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Government sacrificed 2,000 jobs by selling army site to rival party, says Shackleton Studios

By Noel McAdam

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have been accused of jeopardising around 2,000 jobs for the north west by rejecting a major film production company at the former Ballykelly Army base site.

The eve of election attack came from Shackleton Studios which has already been renting part of the site and which demanded answers on the reasons for the rejection of their proposals for the site by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Shackleton revealed its blueprint had not reached the minimum score in terms of the criteria for both community benefit and environmental benefit in the tendering process, but they said they had offered to fund a train halt at Ballykelly, to "benefit the whole community", and had proposed a number of environmental initiatives.

A statement said they had also proposed a financial bond to guarantee delivery of between 1,870 and 2,670 jobs in and around the area - a figure which would have been likely to increase, the firm said.

The company also complained that the tendering process for the site was not "scrutinised and managed in an open way".

The 720-acre Army base was one of a number of former barracks and locations which were "gifted" to the Northern Ireland Executive by the Ministry of Defence.

The Army left the site in 2008 but it was another three years before it went on the market.

Demolition has already taken place in one corner of the site where the Department of Agriculture plans to shift its new headquarters, 60 miles from its current location in Dundonald.

Earlier this year it was announced the tender had been won by specialist fit-out company the MJM Group.

Shackleton Studios yesterday denied timing its challenge to cause maximum embarrassment to Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness on the eve of today's election. A spokesman said: "It has nothing to do with the election. We know the announcement was made in February but we have been involved in the time since in taking legal advice on the next steps - and the next steps are to get clarity."

Using the name Shackleton, the firm had leased the base and was turning it into production offices and studio space to rent out to production teams for film and television shoots - with one film already completed.

"Whilst being disappointed that the First Minister, Arlene Foster, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, did not choose its tender (we are) concerned that the tenders submitted were not scrutinised and managed in an open way," its statement said.

"A successful Shackleton Studios tender would have created between 1,870 and 2,670 jobs in and around Derry-Londonderry.

"Job creation was a key criteria for the tender and therefore a financial bond was proposed as part of the submission to guarantee commitment to the delivery of these jobs." The company said it has written to OFMDFM asking for reasons justifying the decision.

A statement from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister said the sale of the site to the MJM Group was completed on April 29 and involves "ambitious plans (which) will deliver huge social and economic benefits for local people including the creation of employment opportunities".

It added: "MJM has indicated it is keen to explore opportunities for co-operation and potential partnerships with some of the unsuccessful proposers to fully exploit the site and maximise job creation opportunities. This is now a matter for MJM as the owner of the site.

"The assessment process was open, transparent and objective. All proposals from interested parties were assessed against the same criteria and detailed guidance on how proposals would be assessed was provided."

The statement added: "We will respond to the correspondence from Shackleton Studios in due course."

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