Critic challenged to join Partnership

In a joint statement, the DUP’s Lagan Valley MP and Dromore Partnership Chairman Jeffrey Donaldson, Lagan Valley MLA Brenda Hale and Dromore Councillor Paul Rankin said they understood the local resident’s frustration, but insisted there was no lack of effort on the part of politicians.

They said, “The Dromore Partnership, which comprises representatives from all local political parties and the community, has done everything possible to support the regeneration of Dromore Town Centre, together with Banbridge District Council.

“To date the Partnership has helped secure an environmental improvement scheme worth £250,000 for the town centre, which improved the image of the Square around the Town Hall. Presently, the Town Hall itself is the subject of a major renovation costing £473,000.

“The Dromore Partnership and Banbridge District Council also supported the ‘Living Over The Shop’ scheme with a total of £169,300 of grant- aid being invested by the Housing Executive into the Town Centre Living Initiative scheme, which has resulted in the development of eight commercial properties into 15 high specification apartments.

“We are one of the first towns in Northern Ireland to obtain funding from the Department for Social Development for the Dromore Revitalisation Project; the project will enhance and complement work already completed and aims to improve the poor quality environment created by boarded-up vacant properties and sites.

“This in turn will strengthen and improve existing retail provision and promote Dromore as a tourist destination to attract visitors and investors. This scheme alone will see a further investment of public funds amounting to almost £200,000.

“This means that, to date, well over £1million of tax and ratepayers’ money has been invested in rejuvenating the town centre.” That said, they added, “However, in truth these schemes will have limited effect if property-owners are unable to invest in rebuilding on the gap sites and improving the retail offer that is available in the town centre.

“Whilst the population of Dromore has more than doubled in the past two decades, the town centre has continued to decline because many local people prefer to shop elsewhere due to wider choice; this has had a devastating impact.

“Add to that the fact that we are in the worst recession for decades, with property values in Dromore plummeting to their lowest levels for many years, and it is a major challenge to attract any investment right now.

“We are presently working with a number of the local property-owners to secure planning permission for new developments on the gap sites. What we cannot do is force these site owners to build new properties in the middle of a recession or indeed inveigle the banks to lend them the money. They will build when they feel the time is right because they own the sites and it is their money; we have no control over that.”

The DUP trio threw down a challenge to their anonymous critic.

“As local representatives, with a stake in this community, we welcome constructive criticism from those who have the courage to stand up and be counted,” they said, “but it is easy to attack local politicians from the sidelines and with the benefit of anonymity.

“The Dromore Partnership is open to anyone with an interest in the local community. We therefore challenge this anonymous resident to come forward and join us in the Partnership. If they feel they can do a better job then let them rise to this challenge and put their cards on the table.

“In doing so, they will come face to face with the realities and the challenges faced by the Dromore Partnership in seeking to promote regeneration within our town centre at a time when every town and city centre in the UK is suffering the effects of the recession.

“In the end we will not succeed through wishful thinking but only through the solid determination and persistence that has been demonstrated by the Partnership.”