'˜Town needs green space not industrial development'

Support is growing for the former high school site on the outskirts of Maghera to be turned into a public park, it has been claimed.

Mid Ulster District Council is hoping to develop a business park at the Tobermore Road site and has embarked on a 12-week community consultation.

But local people have been signing a petition asking the council to reconsider its plans and instead provide a much-needed ‘green space’ area.

The Maghera Park Action Group claim there’s “a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to provide an open space to benefit the town and surrounding area.

The group told the Mail that there is a “very large body of support now galvanising” to challenge the proposals put by the council.

“Maghera is a town that has been largely forgotten by successive councils. As such, it’s difficulties have accumulated to the extend that it lags on the bottom of the council’s own table of those communities who are struggling,” said a spokesperson in statement.

“The issues are multi-layered and, it is believed by many residents, will not be solved by erecting industrial sheds.

“The council have produced no research or statistics to support their claim of ‘1,000 jobs’, no clear understanding of the impact of such a large industrial space on the surrounding area nor, in the first instance, did they give the residents of the town the obligatory 12 week consultation period - this took two formal requests to the council to change from four weeks to 12 weeks.

“As NI Water has already authorised new connections on the site, it is hoped that the community consultation is not merely a tick-box exercise.

“We strongly believe that investment would be better directed in turning this already beautiful site into a multi-purpose park to support the health and well-being of residents as well as creating pride in a somewhat demoralised Town.

“As Maghera Park Action Group we have been overwhelmed by the amount of support this has received, from across the whole community, including businesses.

“This large, mature area holds a very special place to many people In the town and they recognise this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn the perception of the town around and leave a park legacy for future generations.”

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said there is a formal 12 week consultation process as a requirement of the PAN process, so it was wholly inaccurate to state that any other time period was considered or that it was ever extended on request.

“A lack of industrial land in Maghera has been identified as a barrier to growth for local businesses and the former High School site has been earmarked as a potential strategic location for the development of an industrial park,” the spokesperson said.

“We anticipate that the land could accommodate up to 8 businesses on plots ranging from 4,000sqft to 20,000sqft. However, at this early stage in the process, it is too soon to speculate about the number of associated jobs any such development would bring.

“The current consultation is being undertaken to allow local people to express their views and we welcome all feedback, which will be incorporated into a pre-application community consultation report to be submitted with a future planning application.”