What are the best qualities about Carrickfergus as a place to live and work?
Carrickfergus is a unique location in that it is the only town that lies physically on a main arterial route from Belfast. The views are spectacular as you drive into the town with the castle, the lough and the marina. I do not think that people from Carrickfergus sometimes realise the aesthetic beauty of the town’s aspect. The people of Carrickfergus have taken a number of huge knocks over the years with the loss of major employers in the area but are very resilient and continually look for new ways to improve the area. As the council, we play our part in creating the opportunities to allow this to happen. In the last year we have established a Carrickfergus Regeneration Partnership to help realise the master plan for the town.
The people of the borough are really impressive in the way they take responsibility for their own areas. In Whitehead, for example, there is a vibrant community who are very well organised and can articulate clearly what they want and need from the council and other public bodies. This allows us to keep focused as a council. Carrickfergus and Greenisland also have vibrant community sectors who work extremely well with the council.
When lobbying central government, what are the council’s key priorities?
With the successful announcement of the commencement of the A2, the town of Carrickfergus will be further enhanced as a viable location for expanding indigenous businesses or new overseas businesses. The council works very progressively with Invest NI to ensure that the area is positioned to maximise these opportunities. The council has, of course, been extremely concerned about the job losses announced locally at FG Wilson in Larne and Monkstown and would urge DETI and Invest NI to work closely with major employers to ensure that future job losses are contained.
The council is focused on the need to address the social deprivation that continues to exist in the area exacerbated by high rates of unemployment. The council would urge the Executive to be as creative as possible to ensure that the issues of social deprivation continue to be dealt with. Some initiatives like the funding related to community development, the good relations programme and policing and community safety funding provide the flexibility to put localised solutions onto the ground mostly created by the community and therefore supported to work by the community. The community then has a much better sense of ownership. These models need to be replicated and further supported to encourage an improvement in educational attainment and entrepreneurship.
There needs to be a radical focus on the imminent decline of the retail sector and the impact that is having on town centres throughout Northern Ireland. This problem is very apparent in Carrickfergus but is by no means unique to Carrick. There needs to be a joined-up approach across government departments and landlords, banks and estate agents to identify creative ideas that might ensure that dereliction is, as a starter, contained and then aim at trying to revive town centres.
How is the council preparing for its merger with Ballymena and Larne?
The council is working with the two other councils in the cluster to create the structures and systems that will allow for a transition of services that will be seamless to the citizens.
This is a period of radical change where there will be structural change at political and administrative level and this can cause stress for the key participants. It is my job with my other colleague chief executives and senior management teams to work towards alleviating those concerns by thinking through the issues, taking advice where necessary, and providing clarity and leadership to ensure that the journey is as progressive as possible.
There are huge opportunities with RPA. Significantly more powers are being devolved to local government and this is a great opportunity to allow for more joined-up service provision for the citizens of Northern Ireland.
Overall, what do you aim to achieve during your term in office?
I want to ensure that council remains a robust and an accountable organisation committed to delivering cost-efficiencies in the current economically stringent climate, whilst at the same time delivering high quality, cost-effective services for our ratepayers. I want to mentor and motivate my staff and politicians to achieve to their very best ability. I want to ensure a smooth transition and collaborative delivery on RPA providing constructive leadership during the process. I am passionate about the community planning process and would like to see the fruition of my efforts at garnering a multi-agency approach to ensure that local communities are genuinely engaged in the planning of the public services which affect them. But I think overall, my biggest aim would be to create a wealthier, happier, more self-confident Carrickfergus as a place to live and work.