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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

City Deal update for MEA but still “no mention of monies” for new leisure centre in Ballymena

A computer generated image of the proposed new visitor centre in Carrickfergus.

A computer generated image of the proposed new visitor centre in Carrickfergus.


A £42m Carrickfergus regeneration project has attracted “vast interest from across the United Kingdom”, councillors have been told.


The newly-elected members were given an update on the Belfast Region City Deal programme at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council last month.


They heard the first stage of the procurement of a design team concluded in May. The invitation to tender stage is expected to conclude in August.



The council has reported “vast interest from across the United Kingdom to work on this flagship project”.


The Carrickfergus regeneration project is one of three “large scale”  development projects earmarked for the borough through Belfast Region City Deal funding worth £80m.


This will include a new visitor centre, refurbishment of the radar tower at Carrickfergus Harbour, public realm, road infrastructure works and lighting schemes.



A computer generated image of the proposed phase two project at The Gobbin's, Islandmagee.

A computer generated image of the proposed phase two project at The Gobbin's, Islandmagee.


Phase two of The Gobbins, in Islandmagee, outside Larne, proposes a “major upgrade to the cliff top path”. The £13.6m proposal is for a looped walk connecting the coastal path to the cliff top path and a “welcome hub” building.


Bird surveys are currently taking place on cliff faces.

Final approval from the Department of Finance is expected later this year to “unlock £12.6m match-funding”. The invitation to tender stage is expected to be completed in September.



A £24m i4C “innovation and clean-tech centre” is proposed for construction on the former St Patrick’s Barracks site in Ballymena.


A computer generated image of the proposed Ballymena Innovation Centre or Innovation for Cleantech Centre (i4c) to be developed at the former St Patrick's Barracks site in Ballymena.

A computer generated image of the proposed Ballymena Innovation Centre or Innovation for Cleantech Centre (i4c) to be developed at the former St Patrick's Barracks site in Ballymena.


A report to councillors explains:


“The concept for the project originated as a response by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to help reboot the economy after a series of economic setbacks and job losses in the local economy post-2016.


“The ambition of this project is to drive innovation with SMEs, particularly in the clean-tech and emerging hydrogen economy. A core aim is to assist and enable workforces to transform their skills to meet new and increased demand from across industries and sectors.”



A computer generated image of the inside of the proposed Ballymena Innovation Centre or Innovation for Cleantech Centre (i4c) to be developed at the former St Patrick's Barracks site in Ballymena.

A computer generated image of the inside of the proposed Ballymena Innovation Centre or Innovation for Cleantech Centre (i4c) to be developed at the former St Patrick's Barracks site in Ballymena.


Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is bidding for £20.5m of match-funding through the Department for the Economy. An outline business case has been submitted to the Department of Finance for final approval which is expected later this year.


Procurement of a design team is underway. The next stage will be an invitation to tender which is expected to conclude in August.


The report says the City Deal projects in the capital plan “remained affordable” for the local authority despite a review team highlighting that due to “inflationary pressures and volatility in the economy”, all aspects of City Deal “may not be deliverable within the current estimated envelope of cost meaning it is likely that reductions in the scope of the projects may be required in the future to keep within the budgets”.



It also notes councillors have been provided with the latest revenue projections for City Deal along with an independent financial assurance review and action plan and have agreed to continue to proceed with the programme.


Commenting at the meeting, Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said there is “no mention of monies in there for a new leisure centre in Ballymena which is something I believe this mandate needs to get on top of and progress quite quickly”.


He said a review team has indicated reduction in the scope of the project may be required due to increasing costs and to keep within budgets.


“This is an excellent opportunity to bring outside monies into Mid and East Antrim but I am concerned that we have already had to scale i4c. Are we talking about scaling it further, are we talking about scaling The Gobbins further or are we talking about scaling Carrickfergus?



“I am very aware that Carrickfergus is the flagship project not just for Mid and East Antrim but for all Belfast Region City Deal. I am just concerned that this is the one costing £40m, £20m of that is coming from council.


“If we are talking about scaling on this, at what point are we talking about having these serious conversations and would Carrickfergus not be one we would need to look at simply because the vast majority of council funding for City Deal is in this one project?”


A council officer told the meeting all three projects are “at the same stage”.


He reported the council is currently procuring design teams then moving to stage two where tenders are invited from shortlisted suppliers before getting into full design stage for all three projects.


“At the moment we have outline concepts with indication of costs. Obviously, these are large strategic projects which will take some time to deliver, so there is no telling what the economic climate might look like in one or two years into the programme, so that is why that comment is in there.



“It is just to raise awareness that in any of these large scale strategic projects, you always have to be mindful of the funding envelope and the potential to value engineer and maybe reduce the scope if necessary.


“That will be teased out after we get our design teams in and get the experts in to firm up the concepts that we currently have.”


Cllr Gaston went on to say at some point there will be a business case “to see if these are viable”.


“Council has to come to a crossroads at some stage – are these projects viable? Do we continue with them  or are they not value for money? When will we get there?”



The officer replied:


“As the projects sit at the moment, the costs are fine. They are value for money. Everything stacks up in terms of the outline business cases. The two business cases for i4c and The Gobbins phase two have just recently been endorsed by the Department of the Economy and have been sent forward for approval by DoF (Department of Finance).


“As it sits, everything is within the funding envelope and there is no value engineering required or scope reductions at this moment in time.”

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