Martin Wilson: developing Larne

larne-qa-Martin-WilsonCouncillor Martin Wilson, Chair of Larne Development Forum, answers agendaNi’s questions about the town’s development.

What stands out about Larne?

Larne is ideally situated on the eastern seaboard with easy access to mainland Britain and the ports of Cairnryan and Troon in particular. It has a huge tourist potential and boasts the first two of the nine glens of Antrim: Glenarm and Glencloy.  The imminent upgrade of the A8 to Belfast will make commuting to and from the capital city even more convenient for business and tourist visitors.

What action is the council taking to help the local economy?

The council continues to invest in tourism with the highly successful Carnfunnock Country Park, which attracts visitors from all over Ireland and further afield.  The council has secured funding for, and is ready to deliver, a significant tourism attraction at the Gobbins in Islandmagee with reinstatement of the cliff-top path, originally built in early 1900. It is envisaged that the restored path will re-open to the public in the spring of 2014.

Through Larne Development Forum, the council’s Economic Development Committee, the council has identified and actioned a programme for local unemployed young people, the forum is managed and administered by Larne Enterprise Development Company Ltd. (Ledcom) on behalf of the council. 

How do you hope the town will develop over the next five years?

Larne’s great potential as a centre for tourism relates to the large volumes of visitors that pass through the port of Larne each year as well as its unique position at the start of the famous Antrim Coast Road.  The Larne Town Centre Regeneration Masterplan points to a re-vitalisation of the tourism market and the local shopping trade for the town and surrounding area. 

The vision for Larne’s future is to increase the vitality and prosperity of the town centre through a co-ordinated and sustainable approach to development.  It is hoped that improvements to identity, public realm, townscape, access, facilities and attractions, retail provision and overall design will all ensure that the town centre is revitalised.

How is the council seeking to build on its links with Scotland?

Council actively promotes and encourages its ties with Scotland.  Members of council and their counterparts in Dumfries and Galloway regularly meet as the North Channel Partnership which looks at the transport linkages between the two countries and indeed the wider Trans-European Network which stretches to the North Donegal corridor.

Larne’s strategic role as the second largest port in Northern Ireland after Belfast puts it in a unique position and provides for easy and strong connections with south-west Scotland and beyond, which are important for the north-east region of Northern Ireland.

Larne also has a unique geography as the town sits on a partly natural, partly reclaimed coastal shelf, from which the land rises up to hills and ridges.  With half of the catchment radius of the town being sea, the proximity to Scotland can be widely utilised.

What benefits does investment in Larne bring to the rest of the region?

Larne boasts a very highly skilled workforce which has over the past number of years been very able and willing to adapt to economic changes which are all too real given the current political and economic climate in the UK, Ireland and in Europe.

However Larne has the capacity to act as more than a gateway to Northern Ireland and Council is working to have its tourism profile raised with ambitious schemes such as the Gobbins Path in the south of the borough and the regeneration of Glenarm village in the north. 

Indeed by participating in the Sail West initiative, a programme managed and delivered by Donegal County Council which aims to encourage the development of marine tourism across the entire region, council has raised the profile of both Glenarm marina and Carnlough harbour.

Larne also has an extensive enterprise facility at two sites run by Ledcom at Bank Road, Larne, and at Willowbank Business Park on the outskirts of the town.  Ledcom offers a range of business premises for rental in a mature site just outside the town centre.  Willowbank Business Park sits in five acres adjacent to the A8 arterial route and provides accommodation and services for a range of business sectors.

In addition, Larne can also offer potential investors the availability of land already zoned for industrial use.  All of this provides a wealth of opportunity for investors locally, nationally and internationally which will surely enhance the economic future of Northern Ireland.

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