City treated as a ‘takeaway’ says Crawford

IN the run up to the elections where the DUP will have to face the electorate it has so disappointed, William Leathem can be forgiven for his attempts to re-write history and bury the promise of the Fair Deal he and his colleagues offered the people of this city.

When the Ulster Unionists were the largest Party on the Council, our rates were kept within the lowest quartile in the rates league. A remarkable achievement considering the UUP were the drivers of the award winning Civic Centre, the widely-acclaimed Leisureplex, the Cineplex, the Linen Centre and the restoration of the Castle Gardens. We also achieved the goal of City status.

It is breathtaking for Cllr. Leathem to look for plaudits because this year’s rates rise has been kept around the rate of inflation. The fact is that had it not been for the £2.5 million received from the fire-sale of the land at Ballymacoss Hill and the receipt of sizeable new rates from developments such as Grahams and Dobbies, ratepayers would have been facing a far greater hike in their rates. Cllr. Leathem was in the enviable position of being able to reduce the rates this year and he squandered it.

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Indeed had the city not been treated as a “takeaway” by DUP ministers who have either cancelled, delayed or diverted investment and jobs destined for Lisburn, then rates could have been reduced for years on end.

Furthermore, in 2005 there were 1411 people unemployed in this city. Today, despite an average of around £3 million pounds per year being spent on economic development under successive DUP chairmen, the total has more than doubled to 3207. In 2005, most of the city centre was a vibrant retail area. Now all we see are far too many vacant shopfronts blighting our streets.

Finally I urge Cllr. Leathem, as chairman of the committee responsible, to join me in calling for an enquiry into the sale of the land at Ballymacoss Hill which has lost our ratepayers a potential £6.5 million through the delays in obtaining finance provided by the DSD, a delay for which Margaret Ritchie has already apologised.

It has since emerged that the Housing Associations are sitting on a cash mountain of tens of millions of pounds. So much so that Sammy Wilson is going to make much of it, another DUP “takeaway”. Why was the money not taken from them in 2007 to pay for our land then?

Councillor Ronnie Crawford (UUP)