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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Councillors consider greening town centres but questions raised over £120,000 for three green walls

Green wall

Mid and East Antrim councillors have been counting the cost of “greening” town centres.

The council’s Environment and Economy Committee was considering options for”revitalising town centres” at a meeting at The Braid, in Ballymena, on Tuesday evening.

These include three additional “living” walls featuring shrubbery which could be installed at a total cost of £120,000 in Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena. The council is also seeking four town centre  sites in the borough for “parklets” at a cost of £80,000.

In Larne, negotiations are taking place between the local authority and land owners to create a  £200,000 “pop-up” community garden on vacant land between Main Street and Point Street, featuring “a mix of green space and seating” with sites being considered at North Street, Market Place and Albert Road in Carrickfergus and Wellington Street and Bridge Street in Ballymena.

These are among a number of projects that have been proposed for a funding application to the Department for Communities (DfC) for the second year of its post-Covid ‘Revitalising Town Centres’ programme.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council received funding of £414,500 in 2023/24 through the programme.

Of this sum, almost £170k was used for a shop front grant scheme, aiding 55 businesses to date, three town centre “pop-up” shops, cafe furniture, installation of ten “smart” benches, planting of three “green” walls, feature lighting, sound systems in Carrickfergus and Ballymena, a community noticeboard in Larne,

Commenting on the proposals, Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston asked if the three sites for the “green” walls had been decided before suggesting a site opposite The Braid.

“If you are looking to impact on Ballymena town centre, that would be a great way to do it,” he said.

He also suggested businesses which were unsuccessful in the first phase of the shop front improvement scheme should be re-considered for phase two.

John McVeigh, head of capital works, said he would be “happy” to consider the site proposed by Cllr Gaston. He went on to say he would have to confirm the eligibility criteria from DfC for the shop front grant scheme.

Referring to the “green” walls scheme, Cllr Gaston continued: “£120k seems an extravagant amount of money. I would like elected members to give a steer on it.”

The officer said that if members would like to see the finalised proposal, he would be “happy to come back to the committee”.

Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Cllr Roy Beggs said:

“I am concerned at the proposal for walls at £120k. I am very supportive of green town centres and reducing air pollution and the importance of aesthetics and green walls.”

However, he questioned the cost of £40k each and asked if tree planting has been considered. He added that a “green” wall is “a very extravagant option” that would only benefit a single wall in each town.

Cllr Beggs went on to query the cost to rent the “gap site” in Larne town centre and if it would be “best value for improving our town centres”.

The officer noted the projects would be 90 per cent funded by the Department for Communities and ten per cent by the council. He pointed out the proposed site  in Larne town centre is “an area of dereliction”.

He explained that “parklets” give shops  “an additional trading space”.

“We do want to make sure there is value for money for council funds,” he added. He indicated that feedback suggested “green” walls have had a “positive impact” in the borough’s town centres.

He pointed out a “pop-up” garden could be “rolled out quickly” and would “bring footfall into an area that has been disrupted”.

Braid DUP Alderman William McCaughey commented:

“We’ll not look a gift horse in the mouth.”

However, Cllr Beggs remarked:

“We should not be spending on green walls just because somebody else is paying for it. A gap site could be a very positive proposal but we do not know how long it is for.”

Larne Lough Alliance Ald Robert Logan said:

“No doubt, if DfC is giving 90 per cent, they will have a say on what the money is spent on. I propose we go ahead with the recommendation to see how far we get.”

Coast Road DUP Cllr Andrew Clarke stated:

“I think there are some really good positive things. The gap has been a long-running sore. It would be welcomed by the business community. I would be happy to second.”


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