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More than £500,000 spent annually since 2011 maintaing former army base at Ballykelly

The new DARD headquarters will be housed in Ballykelly, with staff expected to begin moving there next year.
John Monaghan

MORE than £500,000 has been spent maintaining a former British army barracks in Co Derry every year since 2011.

Shackleton Barracks, based in Ballykelly, is set to become the new home of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).

The barracks has cost the taxpayer an average of half a million pounds a year in upkeep since it was transferred for free from the Ministry of Defence to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister in October 2011.

The total cost of maintenance and improvement works has been just under £2.2 million, with a further £420,000 spent on staff wages.

 

In her response to an Assembly question from DUP East Derry MLA Gregory Campbell, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said that 250 staff are due to relocate to Ballykelly by December next year, with a further 340 to transfer by 2020.

Last month a Newry fit-out firm bought the remainder of the barracks for £1 million.

The MJM Group said it plans to create more than 100 jobs.

Its chief executive Jarlath Quinn said the site, which includes an aircraft hangar, would be used to refurbish and fit out private jets.

NI Water also has plans for a new wetland on the 620-acre site.

Earlier this month the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) voiced its "reservations" over DARD's upcoming move to Ballykelly.

It came after Causeway Coast and Glens Council planning committee approved the move.

UFU deputy president Barclay Bell said: "Our concern is that many of DARD's existing, experienced and qualified staff may not be in a position to move because of family commitments due to the long commuting distances."

He also said the union had "consistently" questioned the logic of spending a large amount of money on a single re-location project, when an existing network of DARD Direct Offices throughout Northern Ireland could be used.

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