Transcript of a Statement From Paul Mullan made on the Green– Chair of the Resident’s Association on the Potential for RDP funding
I would like to welcome you all to this discussion today about the Rural Development Partnership funding proposal for the village.
We are meeting because the issue of a community hall has raised a lot of debate and discussion and that is a good and healthy thing within a community like ours. Today the Resident’s Association wants to ensure that everyone understands the issues and has their voice heard.
To start I would like to outline how we got here today.
Back in 2015 the Council commissioned the ARUP report, a report to create a vision for the village and suggest potential improvements. The village was fully engaged in that process making a number of suggestions as to what should happen.
Then Belfast City Council advised us that there was the opportunity to get funding to make some of those proposals a reality. In the end £100k was identified: £75k from the Rural Development Partnership and £25k in kind contribution from the Council. That effectively means £75k for capital works. This was just a preliminary award requiring design works, an economic appraisal and planning consent. With everything needing to be agreed by the end of the year so that the Council can submit the grant request to the Rural Development Partnership.
Following from debate at the Resident’s Association committee we consulted the village again last September on how that money should be spent. The response was impressive, 46% of households in the village responded. The survey indicated that you, the villagers, gave equal weighting to the development of a community hall and environmental improvements.
At that time no site for a community hall had been identified. And the committee had ruled out development on the green for reasons fully explained on the Resident’s Association webpage. So a number of potential sites were then looked at and all were ruled out for issues of land ownership and planning: two of those sites were outside of the defined settlement area and so not developable, one was on land which could not be purchased. An expert view might say that the best possible site would be on a brownfield site, such as on the developer’s land, but any investigation of that would take us outside of the time-frame for the Rural Development Partnership, so that was ruled out for now.
The majority of the Resident’s Association believed that having exhausted our options we should place our efforts into developing up proposals for environmental improvements. At that moment one of the committee members argued that we had not explored development of the green fully. The majority of the committee disagreed for the reasons already explained on our website:
It is an open-space and green-field site which, according to the Belfast City Council, would be unlikely to get planning permission, and would be objected to by the Lagan Valley Regional Park who are a statutory consultee on all planning matters in this area.
Given the timescales that we are working to we believed that our only option was to back the environmental improvements. We had to choose between the risk of backing an approach which had little chance of success and one which we were confident of delivering on.
That is how we got to our decision.
But we recognise that as a committee we are only there to represent the interests of the village, and we cannot and should not act against the village will. If it is the will of the village to explore the community hall on the green we will not stand in that proposal’s way.
The document that has been sent to every house in the village was not produced by the committee and only presents one side of the debate. It paints a very attractive picture of what a community hall could achieve for the village. I am all for that. It is just not achievable on the village green. But the committee welcome this debate and are happy to let the council explore the community structure. To that end I would ask that the proponents of this plan and myself meet with the Council to discuss the next steps: public tender for a designer, economic appraisal to follow, and the planning process that would happen between September and November.
However, it is important that you all fully understand that by taking this approach this could lead to our inability to secure the grant that is on offer. It is only right and proper that the Resident’s Association make this point clear. But in saying that I’d also like to make it equally clear that we will not stand in the way of the proposal’s exploration.