District ‘losing’ out on jobs’

BANBRIDGE is losing out on jobs and industrial development because the district is being “neglected.”

That is the claim from a number of the district’s councillors after figures reveal Banbridge is lagging behind neighbouring council areas when it comes to land owned and leased by Invest NI for industrial use.

While Craigavon council area enjoys more than 308 acres of land owned by Northern Ireland’s main business development agency - including Craigavon Food Park in Portadown and Silverwood in Lurgan - Banbridge has just one Invest NI site in the district. The Scarva Road Industrial estate covers just over 25 acres of land.

The figures for Lisburn show that Invest NI has more than 302 acres of land, and in Armagh there are just over 43 acres under Invest NI’s control.

The lack of Invest NI involvement in the district means the area is losing out on crucial jobs and business development, according to councillor Ian Burns.

“There has been little investment in this area by Invest NI - when we see the other areas being developed and creating jobs Banbridge seems to be the poor relation,” he said.

Mr Burns, along with a number of other local representatives, said the area is being neglected and called for an explanation from the agency as to why.

“We are hoping the Chief Executive will come to one of our meetings and discuss these very real concerns,” he said. “We are asking for our fair share of jobs and industry.”

Mark Bleakney, Manager of Invest NI’s Southern Regional Office, refuted suggestions the area is not being treated fairly.

“That is not the case,” he said. “Banbridge is treated the same as everyone else in line with our policy.”

Councillor Brendan Curran said Banbridge has potential that is not being exploited and asked what the thinking is behind the acquisition of land.

“Invest NI are telling us they won’t go up against land under private ownership - but they are already doing it in other areas,” he said.

“If land is owned and leased out by Invest NI it ensures equality. They lease land at the market rate whereas private owners may lease it at an inflated rate. Invest NI also has the contacts to be able to bring people into the area. Invest NI must explain themselves to the people of this area.”

A spokeswoman for Invest NI explained their rationale behind buying land.

“Invest NI will only buy land in those areas where it can be demonstrated that there is a failure on the behalf of the private sector to provide industrial land,” said the spokeswoman. “When deciding when and where to buy land, factors such as prevailing government policy and qualifying business density are considered. Invest NI also works closely with the Department of the Environment during the Area Plan process to ensure that there is an adequate supply of industrial zoned land across Northern Ireland.”

When questioned on the amount of land developed in other council areas Mr Bleakney said some of that land has been owned for a number of years and not acquire recently.

The council is expected to formally invite the Chief Executive of Invest NI to a meeting in the near future.