Gary McDonald Editor-in-Chief
03 May 2022 01:00
A PROJECT which was to create 30 new jobs on the Causeway Coast and Glens is suddenly in jeopardy – as government money it was promised has still not been transferred to its account.
Community benefit society ‘Grow The Glens’ received £300,000 from the Community Partnership Fund last autumn to develop a remote community digital center in vacant Cushendall Police Station.
It was part of the £4.9million pledged for the borough in Rishi Sunak’s December budget through the government’s Leveling Up Fund.
Ulster University has received almost £3million for a drug discovery food and pharmaceutical innovation centre, while £1.6million has been earmarked for a massive development project at Portrush Recreation Grounds.
But while both of these projects are already underway, Grow The Glens says continued failures to advance the transfer of ownership jeopardize its entire project, funding and delivery.
The group, formed to develop skills, capabilities and facilities in the Glens of Antrim that can capitalize on the economic opportunities of the 21st century, say they have worked over the past four years to secure a commitment to create up to 30 high quality jobs in Cushendall via two multinationals.
The group, a member of Development Trusts NI, was assured that the transfer of community assets from the decommissioned local PSNI station would be transferred to the community last February.
But that didn’t happen, leaving the project and its benefits to the community in uncertain territory – and in a race against time, as funding is time-limited and the £300,000 must be spent by the end of 2022.
“This hub will help support 30 jobs and have a significant economic impact for the wider Cushendall and Glens region, revitalizing footfall, generating personalized digital skills and investing in the region,” said Neil McManus , a member of the Grow the Glens committee, to Irish News.
And he now calls for an urgent and renewed commitment to move the project forward and for government and public agencies to match the urgency of the local community and fully engage with Grow the Glens to see the innovative project through.
Mr McManus added: “As we approach the middle of 2022, there is a growing sense of frustration with the process and the lack of joint delivery on the remote work center which will house and create vital new jobs for the Glens region.
“We need to see some urgency injected into this project to help secure the hub and the jobs it can support. We call on the UK Government, Causeway Coast and Glens Council, Department for Communities, PSNI Board, Invest NI and other local agencies to engage with us as soon as possible, or risk the significant progress made so far. now be in vain. We’re out of time.”
He said: “While all political parties have pledged their support, this lack of urgency and cohesion has hampered the project, leaving us puzzled as to how we unlock this important opportunity.
“Governments have called on volunteers to stand up for rural communities, and that is exactly what we are doing, but this commitment is not matched by others.
“If we are to foster community wealth creation as set out as a key element of government policy, we need government to step up and commit to the process. This will allow Grow the Glens to provide this much needed economic stimulus to the Glens area.
He added: “We have fulfilled our commitments and are ready to finalize the agreement to develop the premises and complete the infrastructure needs for our clients.
“Unfortunately, our clients themselves cannot wait much longer for site development to be finalized – putting all of these jobs at risk.
“We can’t let these job opportunities slip through our fingers – they’re just way too big.
Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Richard Holmes, said: “The Grow the Glens project is a huge step on the road to sustainable development in this rural part of our borough.
“Cushendall seeks to match its undeniable natural beauty with growth and prosperity, and this community initiative will improve the village’s infrastructure and secure its position as a highly desirable place to live, work and visit.”